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Friday, August 06, 2010

If Voters Want To Control Livestock Production, Are They Willing To Pay The Freight?


The prior generation always advised, “Be careful what you ask for, because you may just get it.” That sage advice could have a rather drastic outcome if the public referenda on livestock management and animal welfare continue to pass. The outcome may be voters rhetorically asking themselves, “What in the sam hill have we done to ourselves?”

Food production practices are gaining more and more interest from consumers. They want to meet the farmer who raised the head of cabbage they are going to buy at the Saturday farmers’ market. They want to know what medication was given to the cow which produced their milk. And they want to know why the dairy calf in that picture from the fundraising group, all alone and looking so sad. As a result of the growing consumer interest in telling farmers and livestock producers how to conduct their business, there has been an increase in the number of referenda that have been proposed, voted upon, and passed which will impact livestock production in the US.

Kansas State University livestock economist Glynn Tonsor and Michigan State University economist Christopher Wolf point to the high profile Proposition 2 in California, which was one in a line of dominoes that is falling down on agriculture. Similar initiatives passed in Florida and Arizona phasing out the use of gestation crates and other livestock care equipment. Instead of ballot initiatives, legislative action of similar nature has been passed in Oregon, Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. Ohio livestock interests created a state board to set standards, ahead of efforts by the opposition to establish controls. Tonsor and Wolf say the changes are coming at different rates and different levels of regulation, and if that continues they expect a national standard to be established that would “level the playing field” for all producers. And they say the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) has been a vocal supporter of such federal initiatives, such as banning horse slaughter.

Tonsor and Wolf report on their research which is designed to project how US residents would respond to the California initiative, which is forecast to eliminate the laying industry in that state within 5 years. The economists surveyed 2,001 voters about their thoughts on current livestock production practices, and if the issue was on the ballot to prohibit the practice, would they be in favor or against. The question was parallel to the question on the California ballot to see if the rest of the US felt the same way. The researchers also wanted to know how the voters would see the issue if there were price and tax implications associated with the prohibition of the production practice.

Tonsor and Wolf asked the pork industry to review the survey and make any suggestions before the data was collected. Since the survey was linked to a grocery shopper, more women than men were questioned, with the average age being 53, average income being $55,000, and with one-third having a college degree.

At the outset, 70% said they would support the California referendum, which passed with a 63% favorable vote. But when questions were asked if they would still vote the same way if the price of meat were increased, if taxes were increased to implement the law, or both, then there was a change of heart. 52% of those favoring the restrictions said they would change their mind if it resulted in higher federal taxes, 39% would change if meat and egg prices went up, and 52% would change if both occurred.

But when they broke down the choices with the types of individuals, how did the various demographic groups keep or change their opinions?
1) Females, those with college degrees, and households with higher incomes were more likely to support the evaluated legislation while families with more kids or consuming more pork are less likely.
2) In particular, women and those with college educations were 5.6% and 4.9%, respectively, more likely to vote for the legislation.
3) Conversely, 100% increases in the number of kids and meals containing pork made respondents 1.7% and 3.5%, respectively, less likely to be supportive.
4) When consumers were presented only with price implications our results suggest a willingness to pay 36.36% higher food prices for the examined legislation.
5) Conversely, when both tax and price implications are provided in the survey, willingness to pay estimates were 15.09% higher taxes and 22.81% higher prices.

While consumers may have strong thoughts about how they would like to see livestock raised in the US, the strength of those opinions tend to weaken if they have to pay higher prices for meat or higher taxes to ensure national regulations are implemented. Restrictions on livestock production are being imposed in more and more states with the well financed campaigns of the Humane Society of the US. However the researchers say voters are not thinking about the financial impact when they cast a referendum ballot.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 08/06 at 01:48 AM | Permalink


Why would taxes go up ??? One of the problems you don't discuss being in California they have a problem dealing with the waste with intensive ag?? Will be waiting for your reply. Tks. DW DW: The researchers discovered an increased cost to federal enforcement of national regulations, as opposed to any state-level changes. If the regulation becomes something that USDA's GIPSA agency would have to inspect and regulate, there would be added burden to the US taxpayer. And you are right, that was missing. California certainly has a number of concentrated agricultural facilities, which will have all types of input and output. The close proximity of the population to those operations make the issue all that more sensitive. One of the trade offs is lower food costs, since it does not have to be transported as far. ~Stu

Posted by: Dan Waldow at August 7, 2010 6:06AM

More details need to be gathered on these points and the agricultural powers need to get the facts out to the general public. The way HSUS is going we will not even be allowed to raise animals for our own use. So farmers will again get hit from both sides. No income from raising livestock and spending at least double what should be charged for a lesser quality product at the store.

Posted by: Karen at August 10, 2010 1:01PM

We're working to be a bit more proactive. HSUS has funded a ballot initiative to tighten dog-breeding laws (called "puppy mills") in Missouri for the November ballot, and there is work to do to get the data out to news agencies about HSUS and it's campaign to get rid of all animal agriculture. One of the steps in this is to start direct marketing our beef to local consumers, with plenty of data on that website. As well, we are starting to use Facebook to ensure the data gets out quickly. Offering farm tours and having plenty of photo's available tends to reverse the lies they tell. Another point is to subscribe to various online journals and blogs to cross-comment and link so that the wealth of true data about HSUS and PETA, etc. can be readily known. Farmers need to get very vocal about their produce instead of only hoping that the media and radical activist advertising will be fair and honest in dealing with them. Everytime government steps in, the costs go up. So if we can head this off, such as Ohio's pro-active stance, it will help preserve our way of life.

Posted by: Robert Worstell at August 10, 2010 3:03PM

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