Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The High Cost of Food

Many in the United States pride themselves on our 'cheap' food. But, this study - External Costs of Agricultural Production in the United States - demonstrates that consumers pay for food well beyond the grocery store checkout.

Published in 2004, the study assembled available valuation data to arrive at an aggregate, national figure for particular external costs of agricultural production in the USA...

...in other words, the costs for food that are not included in the grocery price sticker, but instead we are paying the price through other means, including in our utility bills and taxes and in our declining environmental and personal health.

What are the Total External Costs for Food?

The total costs for food not included in the price sticker, conservatively, are $5.7 - 16.9 billion each year. They also indicate at least $3.7 billion additional annually in efforts to regulate the present system and mitigate damages.

What's NOT Included in these Figures?

Additional public costs of agricultural production in the USA include direct subsidies and other support mechanisms for farmers. These are not included in the figures above.

Although fish kills are acknowledged in the figures above, other costs associated with manure run-off and/or inorganic feriliser runoff and their related impacts on aquatic ecosystems and the suppression of biodiversity are not calculated in the final costs of food.

Also NOT included:

Costs of illnesses associated with waterborne pathogens (because States should have implemented the Interim Enhanced surface Water Treatment rule by Jan. 1/2002.

Accidents and fuel or cargo spills also cause injuries and deaths and damage to public health and the environment buth they have not been assessed nor included in the costs above.

On-farm costs of lost productivity due to soil erosion are not included.

Multi-faceted impacts of agricultural chemicals and sedimentation on aquatic ecosystems are not included.

Structural disturbances to habitats and the food chain of aquatic environments is also left out of the final costs of food.

Catastrophic manure spills occur intermittently and are not considered in the costs.

Also, water treatment costs for nitrate are associated mostly with background levels of inorganic nitrogen from fertilisers - not manure.

With respect to manure, the report further recommends:

To curb manure spills, regulations for manure handling at animal feeding operations should continue to be reviewed and enforced and the promotion of other options for livestock finishing should be considered.

The report also states: "The societal burden of these costs calls for a restructuring of agricultural policy that shifts production towards methods that lessen external impacts."

With taxes due next week, I wonder how many taxpayers even know about this report?

The Study was published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2004.

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