The Real Cost of Cheap Food


When you buy a $10,000 home but have to pay $150,000 to make it liveable, you stop thinking you nailed a royal bargain. Instead, you just bought yourself a royal headache.

But, when we buy a $1 fast food burger or chicken sandwich, do we stop to think of the real cost of this cheap meat? In the 1970s, meat consumption was over 4% of an American family’s income, now it’s only 1.6%. In fact, Americans spend only 9.5 percent of their disposable income on food, lower than any other country in the world. I remember a lesson I was taught growing up, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Cheap meat that we rely upon for our demand for cheap food is grown and made in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Here’s the real cost of our cheap meat:


The antibiotics pumped into animals raised at CAFOs has been cited by the Center for Disease Control as a potential factor in the rise of antibiotic resistant human diseases.

Also, women who eat two servings of red meat per day have a 30 percent higher chance of developing coronary heart disease.


With the recent egg salmonela scares of this summer, the safety practices of large food manufacturer, Wright County Egg, has brought to light the unsafe practices at large CAFOs.

Tax Dollars

While CAFOs don’t receive public funding, they rely heavily on corn products to feed their animals, with the corn industry receiving massive subsidies from the federal government.

Environmental Costs

On smaller farms, animal excrement is used as fertilizer. At CAFOs, it gets shipped away. This leads to massive increases in contamination to waterways. In Iowa, home to hundreds of CAFOs, the state DNR recorded that 99 waterways were contaminated enough in 2008 to cause fish kills and that 47 of the incidents that caused the contamination could be positively traced back to animal waste.

So, the next time you’re considering that cheap meat, consider what hidden costs you’re incurring. You know better than to buy a $100 car from a car dealership, exercise that same discipline when it comes to your food.

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