Monday, December 12, 2011

How college should be subsidized

My experience on a committee to review general education has taught me one thing: instead of giving government subsidies to the university, it should be given directly to students in the form of vouchers.

Otherwise, when designing general education, we will ask what we know and what we like, and wish the student to follow our footsteps. If I am a math professor, students should learn to "purify their soul by studying Euclidean geometry" (actual statement). If I study ethics, students should take more ethics courses.

In the beginning (long, long time ago) university classes depended almost exclusively on what the students wanted to learn. After 12 years of school, students have probably earned that opportunity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Farm Animal Welfare Book

My upcoming book on farm animal welfare, titled Compassion by the Pound, is not yet in print but is ready for sale:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Who Makes Decisions About Animal Welfare?

Consider this excellent musing on the formation of public policy, and try to think about it in terms of animal welfare. Who decides how eggs or pork will be produced? Who decides whether cattle will enter a feedlot? Who decides whether animals will be raised at all for food?

Pleasant Comments About United Egg Producers

Last week I attended a Media Field Day held by the United Egg Producers. The idea was to have the media tour cage and cage-free egg farms and then attend information sessions features speakers by UEP affiliates, such as economic consultants hired by the UEP and the UEP Scientific Panel.

I have been studying egg production for over two years intensely, so I was excited at the prospect of being able to actually see the farms. I had been trying all summer but no farm would let me visit. Both the cage and cage-free facilities were almost exactly what I expected, with the cage-free being more impressive than I thought it would be.

The information sessions were straight-forward and honest. When describing and defending the cage system, one of the scientists blatantly described the disadvantages, describing how the cage restricts behavioral needs of the animal. The point is that while the UEP affiliates were indeed lobbying for the UEP, they were honest and forthright. I applaud them for this, and I wonder how straightforward their opposition would be?

I am sincerely appreciative to the UEP, so in return, in this post I am going to make some pleasant comments about the UEP. These comments are statements that I sincerely believe, where I am purposely leaving out any comment that is in opposition to UEP. For readers who think I am being too soft, I urge you to remember that the purpose of this posting was to be honest but soft. Here goes...this is Bailey being as pro-UEP as he can be...

Bailey's Pleasant Comments Regarding the United Egg Producers

The United Egg Producers (UEP) are truly placed in a difficult position. They have been producing cage eggs for decades, and there is little doubt that cage eggs are what consumer prefer (at the currently prices in which they are sold). UEP producers sell both cage and cage-free eggs, and cage eggs dominate the market with cage-free being little more than an interesting novelty. While the UEP has a customer base that clearly prefer cage eggs, they are being placed under considerable pressure by certain groups to cease cage egg production, and convert fully to cage-free eggs. In short, they are being forced by interest groups that represent a small minority of consumers to cease selling the very product that their consumers desire. I do not envy the UEP and the setting they must operate.

It is also worth pointing out that the UEP has a number of very prestigious animal scientists, who tell the UEP that cage production is humane. Let me repeat this. Although powerful animal groups are seeking to ban cage egg production, some of the most prestigious and knowledgeable people in the world in the area of farm animal welfare blatantly assert that cage production is humane.

Thus, we have a situation where egg customers primarily desire cage eggs, and some of the foremost experts believe that cage egg production is humane. How is the UEP expected to do anything other than fight animal advocacy groups who attempt to ban cage egg production? When animal scientists are telling them that cage egg production is humane, how is UEP supposed to do anything other than argue that the animal advocacy groups "true" agenda is to rid the world of animal food production?

Finally, given the fact that the vast majority of consumers want cage eggs and the fact that many animal scientists assert that cage egg production is humane, should cage eggs be banned based on the research of two agricultural economists named Bailey Norwood and Jayson Lusk? If one book called Ham and Eggonomics argues that "educated" consumers actually desire cage eggs over cage-free eggs and argues that cage-free eggs are "more humane", is one book enough to outweigh all these other considerations?

I can honestly say that while I hope our upcoming book does well, I do not desire for it to receive the undeserved acclaim and allegiance that certain books about food today receive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Egg Farm Video

I've been suggesting to the United Egg Producers that they upload videos of cage and cage-free production for some time. They have arrived! They have some very nice videos showing clearly what the farms look like so that readers can contrast UEP videos, which will show the best side of egg production, to videos from animal rights groups, which will show worst side of egg production. Those videos are injected in parts of the Feedstuffs Foodlink video below.

Egg Housing Transition Study

Feedstuffs recently ran a story about an economic study detailing the impacts of a nationwide shift from cage to cage-free egg production. Last week I attended a presentation by the economic firm conducting the study, and can say that they generally did a good job with the analysis. A narrative of the results is shown below.

However, there is one area in which the analysis could be improved. The study, conducted by Promar International, detailed the costs of a nationwide switch to cage-free production, but they ignored the benefits. My research (detailed in an academic working paper and a forthcoming book) provides a good deal of evidence suggesting that consumers as a whole prefer cage-free egg production, and when educated about egg production, the value they place on cage-free eggs over cage eggs is greater than the cost premium. Put differently, we find that although cage-free eggs do cost more to produce, educated consumers are more than willing to pay this cost.

There are many more complicated issues to consider, and I am not trying to persuade readers to support a nationwide ban (I do not support/oppose anything). What I am saying is that a study that analyzes the cost of a policy without considering the benefits will always be somewhat misleading.

Excerpt from Promar Study...
Such a transition would increase the cost of eggs for consumers 25% or more, would increase the cost of eggs for government nutrition programs $169 million per year and could increase egg imports from virtually zero now to 7 billion eggs per year, according to the study, commissioned by the United Egg Producers (UEP) and conducted by Promar International, an economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C.