The Economics of Meat Consumption


This challenge was introduced by Lukas Tomberg, a researcher at RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Essen.


Most German citizens consume meat regularly, commonly because they like the taste or associate it with additional benefits. Thus, the decision between the consumption of meat or other food sources is mainly based on preferences.


This ignores many factors that are apparently connected with this decision. It is known, for instance, that livestock farming is related to high water consumption as well as significant emissions of greenhouse gas. Additionally, excessive meat consumption entails health risks and is detrimental to animal welfare.


Taken together, all of these factors suggest that meat consumption imposes substantial costs that may render it highly inefficient for society at large. The measurement of the societal and private dimension of this inefficiency, as well as the development and evaluation of possible solutions, are fields of applied economics and is the subject of this YES-Challenge.


How much could CO2 emissions be conserved by a reduction of meat consumption?

How significant is this conservation compared to other possibilities of conservation?


How much water could be conserved by a reduction of meat consumption?

How extensive is this conservation compared to other possibilities of conservation?


How much money could households save by reducing their meat consumption?


What economic advantages and disadvantages could a reduction of meat consumption cause?


How can we measure the people’s willingness to accept higher prices on meat in favor of animal welfare?


Which political measures could yield a reduction of meat consumption?


How would you assess the distributional consequences of these measures?

Recommended literature



These are some paper to begin with, especially Lusk and Norwood (2009). It could happen that some of the papers are too technical, in that case omit them or try to understand as much as possible.



de Boer, J., Schösler, H., & Aiking, H. (2014). “Meatless days” or “less but better”? Exploring strategies to adapt Western meat consumption to health and sustainability challenges. Appetite, 76, 120-128.



Dagevos, H., & Voordouw, J. (2013). Sustainability and meat consumption: is reduction realistic?. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, 9(2), 60-69.



Grabs, J. (2015). The rebound effects of switching to vegetarianism. A microeconomic analysis of Swedish consumption behavior. Ecological Economics, 116, 270-279.



Hallström, E., Röös, E., & Börjesson, P. (2014). Sustainable meat consumption: A quantitative analysis of nutritional intake, greenhouse gas emissions and land use from a Swedish perspective. Food Policy, 47, 81-90.



Lusk, J. L., & Norwood, F. B. (2009). Some economic benefits and costs of vegetarianism. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 38(2), 109-124.


Lusk, J. L., & Norwood, F. B. (2011). Animal welfare economics. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 33(4), 463-483.


Lusk, J. L., & Norwood, F. B. (2016). Some vegetarians spend less money on food, others don’t. Ecological Economics, 130, 232-242.



Tucker, C. A. (2014). The significance of sensory appeal for reduced meat consumption. Appetite, 81, 168-179.

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    The RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research is a leading center for scientific research and evidence-based policy advice in Germany and member of the Leibniz Association The economy matters for everybody.

    At RWI scientists analyze what happens in the economy, why it happens, and which consequences changes in economic conditions and policies have for the individual and the society as a whole. With this research, the institute supports politics, provides important bases for their decisions and evaluates political measures. For this purpose, the RWI conducts research in all areas – from the individual to the global economy – along four “competence areas”: “Labor Markets, Education, Population”, “Health Economics”, “Environment and Resources” and “Macroeconomics and Public Finance”.

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