When you buy a fast food burger you probably think you're getting a bargain right? A new study by The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) takes a big-picture look at the web of problems associated with industrial beef production. The actual number the reporters arrived at when calculating the hidden — or externalized — costs of the average burger: $1.51 (or $72 billion for the 48 billion burgers Americans eat every year!).
We looked at a range of ways beef is produced and came up with an average that is close to how a cow would be raised in Fresno, Calif.: about 1 pound of greenhouse gases per ounce of beef, or about 6½ pounds of greenhouse gases per quarter-pounder. We looked at studies that showed the health costs of treating overweight people and associated illnesses, such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes — that’s about 75 cents per burger. Then we looked at how much water it takes to produce a pound of beef — that’s about 50 cents per burger. We also looked at the price of a ton of carbon — that’s remarkably small for the U.S., less than one-hundredth of a penny. But in the European Union, because it has a functioning carbon market, the price would be about a nickel per burger. Daniel Lopez Dias, the lead economist on the calculations, notes that these figures are conservative and don’t include effects from air and water pollution, effects of low wages that slaughterhouse workers receive and the high risk of injury they face, or general effects of urban sprawl.
The evidence against livestock production continues to build. We already know that livestock production is one of the major contributors to climate change. The negative health consequences of a heavy animal diet is well documented. And now we see how our livestock/meat production negatively impacts our financial well being.
We don't have many simple, easy ways to positively impact our climate and health problems but reducing/eliminating meat and meat products is something we can all do with optimism. The rewards to our planet and personal health are now calculable.