Against Inefficacy Objections: the Real Economic Impact of Individual Consumer Choices on Animal Agriculture
Food Ethics 2 (2-3):93-110 (2019)
AbstractWhen consumers choose to abstain from purchasing meat, they face some uncertainty about whether their decisions will have an impact on the number of animals raised and killed. Consequentialists have argued that this uncertainty should not dissuade consumers from a vegetarian diet because the “expected” impact, or average impact, will be predictable. Recently, however, critics have argued that the expected marginal impact of a consumer change is likely to be much smaller or more radically unpredictable than previously thought. This objection to the consequentialist case for vegetarianism is known as the “causal inefficacy” objection. In this paper, we argue that the inefficacy objection fails. First, we summarize the contours of the objection and the standard “expected impact” response to it. Second, we examine and rebut two contemporary attempts to defeat the expected impact reply through alleged demonstrations of the inefficacy of abstaining from meat consumption. Third, we argue that there are good reasons to believe that single individual consumers—not just consumers in aggregate—really do make a positive difference when they choose to abstain from meat consumption. Our case rests on three economic observations: animal producers operate in a highly competitive environment, complex supply chains efficiently communicate some information about product demand, and consumers of plant-based meat alternatives have positive consumption spillover effects on other consumers.
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