According to the research of author David Simon, the externalized cost of our animal food system totals about $414 billion per year, which is carried by all of us. That $4 Big Mac actually costs society about $11, and even if you don't eat meat, you still help to underwrite about $38 billion in animal food subsidies each year.
Have we lost the ability to make an informed decision about what, and how much, to eat? Simon thinks so, and his book shines a light on the hidden economics behind meat and dairy consumption and production, and explores its effects on human health, society, and the environment.
Through a combination of artificially low prices, misleading messaging, and a stronghold over regulatory and legislative agendas, the meat and dairy industries have created a system that encourages Americans to eat a lot more of these animal products than the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises, in what Simon describes as "rigged" economics.
And not only is this system affecting the health of individuals, but it has also lead to huge environmental and social costs, which are not apparent in the retail prices, but which are born by all of us in the form of rising healthcare and insurance costs, degraded natural resources, and other so-called "externalized" costs.
In his book Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter, Simon argues that for both herbivore and omnivore alike, these bizarre forces of "meatonomics" affect all of us in a variety of ways.
Simon compares the external costs of the animal food industry to those of other, more well-known industries that have clear environmental and health impacts, such as the tobacco and oil industries.
In the book, he states that tobacco companies were shown to have caused $400 billion in additional health care costs over about 50 years, and were compelled to pay up for the effects of their products (which are taxed, not subsidized), yet the US animal agriculture industry is responsible for generating "more than $600 billion in health care costs every two years," while also benefiting from generous subsidies and low taxes. And in the same vein, the oil industry, which is also heavily taxed, takes advantage of $10 billion in yearly subsidies from the federal government, much less than the current $38 billion per year in animal food subsidies.
"In the race to the absolute bottom, animal agriculture wins, hands down, as the US industry that imposes the highest economic costs on society across the board." - Meatonomics
Here are just a few of the staggering statistics from Meatonomics:
- Average market value of a cow in the North Central United States : $245
Average cost to raise a cow in that region : $498
Amount US taxpayers spend yearly to subsidize meat and dairy : $38 billion
To subsidize fruits and vegetables : $17 million
Annual government-managed “checkoff” spending to promote meat and dairy : $557 million
To promote fruits and vegetables : $51 million
Portion of US cancer, diabetes and heart disease cases related to meat and dairy consumption : 1/3
- Annual cost to treat US cases of these diseases related to meat and dairy consumption : $314 billion
If you're interested in learning more about how the economics of the meat and dairy industries affect you, your community, and your environment, Meatonomics is available through the website, where Simon also writes regularly about the issue.