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Tue, Nov. 25th, 2008, 02:48 pm
Economics of Prop. 2

Here in California we recently passed proposition 2, which basically required that farm animals be given enough room to stretch their limbs. The hype against it was a hilarious self-parody of playing off of urbanites's misconceptions of where food comes from: You don't want to let chickens outside, they could catch bird flu! Or run into dirt! Which is rotting! And contains worms! They might even eat a worm! You wouldn't want to each a chicken which had eaten a worm, would you? Okay, so I exaggerate, but it was pretty ridiculous. But that isn't what I really want to make a point about right now.

The other argument against prop. 2 was that it would cause California eggs to be more expensive than mexican eggs, and hence result in california chicken farmers being unable to compete with mexican ones. This on its face makes sense, but I believe the truth is exactly the opposite.

You see, food production in the united states looks very efficient, because prices are very low, but in fact it's extremely inefficient, because consumers would much rather pay slightly more for food which is grown or raised better, and farmers would happily take the higher margins for such food. This is blocked by the total lack of information in the system. Just about the only thing a store-brought chicken says about where it came from is that it's chicken. They can say 'organic' now, which sort of means something, but less than you'd think. By increasing the simple and understandable meaning of the labelling term 'california', consumers are now given extra information about how the chicken which their eggs came from were raised, and are likely to prefer that, especially with a likely price difference of only a few cents.

States in general should probably consider what regulations would cause the most improvement in their produced food for the least increased cost, and institute those regulations and make them widely known, to improve the value of their states's brand. I believe that prop. 2 is simply the most low hanging fruit (no pun intended) for such regulations, and lots more should be added.

Tue, Nov. 25th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)

I absolutely agree. As a consumer I would much rather have more information and be able to make an informed decision than have to rely on price alone to make the decision.

I do go to my local farmer's market and pay a bit of a premium for food that is locally grown. I know I'm not exactly the typical family of 4, and that I have more leeway in my purchasing decisions since I'm only feeding two, but when given the option of knowing where my food comes from and supporting those farmers that do offer non-gmo/bgh and organic foods, I have no issue spending a bit more.
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Wed, Nov. 26th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)

It's a good point, but it can be argued that profit-seeking people have already done this and have already destroyed the strategy. Food producers already had the idea of making popular claims about the food they sell and charging just a tiny bit more. Consumers flocked to the products, convincing less scrupulous food producers that they need to be in on the action, but the copycats cut so many corners that the copycat labels did not mean what the consumers thought they meant. The media then convinced consumers that they are possibly being tricked if there is no government regulating use of the terms. As a result, consumers care about what the government says about the food. So, yes, it might be worth money for a chicken farmer to move into California because that means that the government will lend plausibility to claims being made about the food, and plausibility is worth money. I just read an article a week ago claiming that foods certified as "organic" cost almost twice as much, so government-regulated terms can be very powerful.

Wed, Nov. 26th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)

I am a vegan for purely ethical reasons, so any proposition which mandates better treatments of animals is something that I would personally support, but only because I believe that such treatment is unethical.

Now, setting aside my own belief about animal rights and adopting the belief of 99% of America (and the rest of the world) for a moment, I am completely against any proposition that mandates better treatment of animals. They are simply a product, and mandating better products just results in undesirable increases in price. If people gave a crap about how their chickens were treated (which actually has very little or no effect on the taste of the chicken), the companies would have figured this out already, treated the chickens better, and raised the price.

On a side note, even if the companies are truly this naive, and it really would result in more profit for them and happier consumers, a government mandate that they proceed in this direction is still incorrect. It still limits the freedom of the business to do what they want, which is not the way America ought to operate (unless ethical issues are concerned, which is not what we are discussing here).

Again, I'm all for limiting the food industries because I believe that animals have the right to life and liberty just like all other sentient beings, but that's not the issue you brought up, so I've ignored that.

Wed, Nov. 26th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)

You're wrong about flavor - animals raised under better conditions taste noticeably better and are much more nutritious than the on-the-verge-of-death-when-they-were-slaughtered ones they sell in supermarkets are.

Thu, Nov. 27th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC)

I don't know what Prop. 2. was about, but it sounds like it was an attempt to bring better living conditions to animals which are being raised for food. Explicitly, it was probably an attempt to bring more ethics to factory farming so that animals don't suffer.

I care about animals being treated ethically. I think all creatures have the right to live a painless life with minimal suffering. I am also not a vegan or vegetarian, so I somewhat care about how meat is raised (for ethical reasons, not taste). I've asked some people what they thought about factory farms and what they thought about the suffering animals go through their entire lives before being turned into cheap meat. Surprisingly, most people would rather save a few dollars then to treat animals better.

The root question is this: Should we have empathy for creatures other then human beings? If society feels that animal abuse is wrong (in the context of pets) but it will tolerate much worse conditions in factory farms, then that society has a contradiction in its ethical values. Some people might say that treating animals well before they're slaughtered is pointless, much in the same sense as feeding a convict on death row right before his/her execution.

Regardless, even if Prop. 2 passed, any factory farmer who wants to continue doing business their way can simply pick up shop and move to another state or country. The initial cost of moving operations might be high, but if they can undercut their competition with lower prices then they will do more business and profit in the long term.