While many of us stretch our budgets to accommodate price increases, we often are able to buy a dollar hamburger at the local fast food joint. How can the price of some meat be so cheap?
We need to look at two types of costs—direct costs that the manufacturer of any product includes in the final price to the consumer. Those costs include materials, equipment, labor, and overhead. Then, there are the other costs often not included in the price—costs that are paid by everyone whether they purchase the product or not. These are the hidden costs.
Take for example, that $1 hamburger. The direct costs include raising, slaughtering, packaging, and shipping the animal to market along with the labor and equipment to do so. The hidden costs include the amount of water used in the production of that meat (500 gallons for 1 pound of chicken; 4,000-18,000 gallons for a hamburger). Such extreme use of water is causing precipitous drops in some of the country’s largest aquifers.
Another hidden cost is to our health. In order to keep factory farmed animals healthy enough to live until they are slaughtered, the meat industry laces animals’ food with antibiotics. Actually, the factory farm uses 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in this country. The more antibiotics are used for non-antibiotic needs, the stronger some germs become until they are labeled antibiotic-resistant organisms (also known as superbugs) which can cause extreme illness and death to humans.
But that’s not the only health problem we have with eating that cheap hamburger. There’s heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and other nasty illnesses awaiting us if we continue to eat meat. Factor in our medical bills and the cost of that hamburger is rising astronomically.
Then there’s the cost to the family farmer. Many have lost the battle with big agra and have closed up, leaving whole communities without a source of revenue. Small towns across the country have disappeared as the family farmers have left town.
Let us not forget the cost to the environment. Run-off from factory farms, which includes fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fecal matter, and all sorts of other waste products, destroys property, pollutes ground water, and causes dead zones in bodies of water, some many miles from the factory farm site.
Of course, there is no way any of us can calculate the cost to the animals themselves, to the mothers who have their offspring taken from them minutes/days after giving birth, to the animals who suffer in cramped filthy cages for weeks, to the offspring ground up in wood chippers, to the young lives lived in horrific conditions before they undergo frightening deaths. So, when you think about it…the cost of meat is staggering. Are you, your family, friends, and colleagues willing to continue paying that price?