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Unintended consequences of the quest for increased efficiency in beef cattle: When bigger isn’t better

Joshua G. Maples, Jayson Lusk () and Derrell S. Peel

Food Policy, 2018, vol. 74, issue C, 65-73

Abstract: Federal funding has long supported the goal of increased beef cattle efficiency. Today, the U.S. produces more beef from fewer cattle due to the ability to get more meat from each animal. Average cattle slaughter weight has increased more than 330 pounds over the past 40 years. While the benefits of this increase in efficiency are well documented, unintended adverse consequences have been less well understood. This article aims to identify and quantify one of these adverse effects. With larger cattle have come larger steaks. In response, many retailers have begun offering thinner cuts to combat high total package prices. But, do consumers prefer larger, thinner steaks or smaller, thicker steaks? Using data from a nationwide survey, this article estimates consumer willingness to pay for beef steak dimensions to draw insights into the consumer welfare changes that have resulted from increasing steak sizes. Results imply that most consumers prefer thicker to thinner cuts steaks and that smaller surface areas are preferred to larger ones. Our estimates suggest that increases in welfare due to larger carcasses, say from lower prices and more ground beef, must offset an $8.6 billion annual loss in consumer welfare resulting from changing steak size.

Keywords: Beef; Carcass size; Consumer preferences; Steak size (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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