What is the current best estimate of the cumulative elasticity of chicken?

byreallyeli18d3rd May 201915 comments


Recently, I began eating vegetarian. I was motivated both by a utilitarian desire to decrease animal suffering, and by a non-utilitarian desire to live more in accordance with my values. (So, in particular, I don't think the answer to this question will strongly affect my decision to eat/not eat meat.)

A friend objected to the idea that eating vegetarian resulted in less suffering for animals. He reasoned that economics says a drop in demand for some commodity should cause prices to fall for that commodity, and overall consumption remains the same. (Non-vegetarians would just buy more meat.)

I was surprised by this line of reasoning and hadn't thought of it before. (By contrast, I am familiar with the question "does my not purchasing chicken really cause the supermarket to order less chicken?" and am comfortable with the answer discussed e.g. in https://reducing-suffering.org/does-vegetarianism-make-a-difference/).

I did some research and learned the term "cumulative elasticity" from https://animalcharityevaluators.org/research/dietary-impacts/effects-of-diet-choices/ (although is this the term of art? I can't find many other hits when Googling.) When you abstain from buying X kg of chicken, total supply of chicken goes down by X kg * cumulative elasticity.

The ACE article links to https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1iNDQIt9MRD4r1ws5M_2hQ-MNjMY-bcUra0fpOmF4Am0/edit#gid=0 which gives an estimate for the cumulative elasticity of chicken as between 0.06 and 0.7. But the article I got it from has a big disclaimer at the top: "We do not feel that this report is up to our current standards." This, and the wide range, make me want to see other sources of data.

I'd like to know:

- Am I going about answering my friend's question correctly?

- If I am, has any other work been done on estimating the cumulative elasticity of (say) chicken? How is such research done?