kbog did an oopsie! (new meat eater problem numbers)

bykbog4mo15th Feb 20198 comments


Edit: this is out of date, see https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/YuFD4v7DFBcM57eSA/consequences-of-animal-product-consumption-combined-model

The "meat eater problem" is the problem that, the more we enrich people, the more meat they will eat - which increases animal suffering.

Well I took my old analysis here, that was estimating the magnitude of the meat eater problem. Then I decided to combine it with the animal suffering numbers from my more recent estimate of the net farm animal suffering caused by farming.

In the process I found that my meat eater calculation included a critical misreading of York & Gossard. Fish consumption does increase as African countries get wealthier, by an estimated 0.79kg annually per $1000 GDP.

I'll suppose that 0.6kg out of this marginal increase is from farming. I'll suppose that 0.4kg of this is like catfish (because the similarly small tilapia is commonly farmed in Africa and other poor regions) and 0.2kg is like salmon.

Plugging these numbers into the animal welfare spreadsheet as a "diet" (too simple an action to merit uploading - it's just the kg quantities from the meat eater sheet, plus 0.4k for catfish and 0.2kg for salmon) I get -720 welfare day-points for the year's marginal meat consumption. This means that a $1,000 increase in GDP per capita for a person in Africa has an animal cost that is equivalent to -2 points on a -100 to +100 scale, which is 4% of the average welfare difference between living in India and living in Canada, using my sentience weights. Things may be worse in India/Bangladesh: presumably they fall somewhere between the average relationship for Asia (2.31kg) and the relationship for the West, Africa and the Middle East (0.79kg). The authors suggest that cultural factors drive the difference.

I'm ignoring the climate change costs of meat consumption because that can and should be left as part of the more general question of the link between economic development and long run GHG emissions. In any case, GHG emissions only make a relatively small difference on any short or medium run outlook, as I argued when I posted the farming analysis.

Given these assumptions about animal farming (which point heavily towards animal charity in the first place, anyway - see Shulman's comment in the original meat eater problem thread) I think these numbers suggest general agnosticism about the direct impacts of economic growth aside from the question of wild animal suffering. I would make an exception for pulling people out of serious poverty because the wealth-welfare relationship is solidly logarithmic. Per Footnote 7, York & Gossard seem to think that neither a linear model (which they present, because it's simpler) nor a logarithmic model (which they claim to have done) is decisively a better fit for the relationship between wealth and animal consumption.