real cost of cheap food
wants cheap food. But now, many people are worried about the real costs
of this. Food is grown and made cheaply because many of the real costs get left
out. They are 'externalised': missed out of the cost calculation. Here are some
food depends on using huge machines to culitvate and harvest crops, more machines
to process them and more again to transport them. These machines use a lot
of fuel and all the exhaust gases get dumped — pollution
— into the air we all breathe. Small family farms can't afford to buy expensive
machines so they go out of business.
- On factory
farms, animals are treated not as living creatures,
but 'production units' because it's cheaper that way. The pollution from factory
farms affects streams, rivers and even the sea and coral reefs.
there's pesticides. These may kill pests but they too can seriously pollute
water supplies under the ground: often your drinking water. This water has
to be cleaned up before it can be used. That's expensive to do and should
be paid for as part of the cost of 'cheap' food. But it isn't and so people
have to pay higher prices for their water supplies — or drink polluted water.
there's the thorny problem of subsidy. This is where governments give money
to farmers to grow crops. This makes food artificially cheap so that it can
be sold cheaply in other parts of the world, undercutting poor or unsupported
farmers and driving them out of business. Most rich countries subsidise their
farming industries but they like to pretend they don't. Why? Because subsidising
agriculture is supposed to be against the rules of international trade.
you believe it?
- Farmers in the world’s top 21 food-producing
countries received about $486
billion in public support in 2012. Source:
- one cow in the rich world gets
a subsidy equal to almost twice the
annual income of an average Third World farmer.
where does that money come from? You! You (or your parents) pay taxes
and that's where the subsidies come from.
If the costs of stopping
air and water pollution, treating the animals kindly and cleaning up factory
farms before they cause pollution were paid as part of the true costs
of 'cheap' food, it wouldn't be cheap at all.
more on factory farms, click the pig image to visit the Food&WaterWatch factory farm facts page.
if you're concerned about the way some people treat animals.
out more facts and figures, visit