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Life Arts    H4'ed 10/7/13

How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much; How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter

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An Interview with David Robinson Simon  author of   MEATONOMICS :   How the Rigged Economics of Meat and  Dairy Make You Consume Too Much;  How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (reprinted with permission of the publisher)


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  1. What is Meatonomics about?

    1. The book explores the unseen economic forces that drive our animal food system, and the weird ways these forces affect consumers' eating, spending, health, prosperity, and longevity.  Among other things, we've lost the ability to decide for ourselves what -- and how much -- to eat.  Instead, those decisions are mostly made for us by meat and dairy producers who control our buying choices with artificially low prices, misleading messaging, and heavy control over legislation and regulation.  

  1. How do animal food producers keep retail prices artificially low?

    1. By "externalizing" their costs, or imposing them on society.   Meatonomics is the first book to add up the massive externalized costs that the animal food system imposes on taxpayers, animals and the environment, and it finds these costs total about $414 billion yearly.  With yearly retail sales of around $250 billion, that means that for every $1 of product they sell, meat and dairy producers impose almost $2 in hidden costs on the rest of us.   But if producers were forced to internalize these costs, a $4 Big Mac would cost about $11 and a $5 carton of organic eggs would cost $13.    

  1. $414 billion is a huge number.  Can you explain where these costs come from?

    1. Each year, the animal food industry bills society about $314 billion in healthcare costs, $38 billion in government subsidies, $37 billion in environmental costs, $21 billion in cruelty costs, and $4 billion in costs of fishing.  It's bad enough that society has to bear these expenses, but the problems go much deeper than just money.  The forces of meatonomics contribute to epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, widespread degradation of land and water resources, and the legal, routine abuse of 60 billion land and marine animals yearly.

  1. Don't all industries externalize some costs?  Is the animal food industry really any different?

    1. Other industries externalize costs too, but the animal food industry literally dwarfs all the others.  For example, electricity generation, despite its massive burning of coal and petroleum, generates only about one-third the externalized costs of animal foods.  

  1. How can economic forces cause health problems like obesity and heart disease?  

    1. The artificially low prices of meatonomics encourage Americans to eat twice the meat and dairy they would otherwise.  According to hundreds of published studies, this high consumption is responsible for diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  Today, two in three Americans are overweight, one in three has heart disease, and one in nine has diabetes.  About a third of the costs to treat these diseases is related to animal foods, which is where the estimate of $314 billion in healthcare costs comes from.

  1. But don't people buy animal foods for a lot of reasons besides just their price?  Some people like the way these foods taste, and some do it out of simple habit.

    1. It's true there are lots of factors that influence consumption.  But studies show that on average, despite all the other factors that influence demand, a 10% move in price causes about a 6.5% move in consumption levels of animal foods.  The difference of 3.5% is a reasonable approximation of the influence that other factors, like taste and habit, have on buying decisions.

  1. You said the system generates major environmental costs as well.  Can you elaborate?

    1. Factory farming causes widespread environmental damage in the form of air and water pollution, degradation of land, and contribution to climate change.  The documented, externalized costs related to these problems total about $37 billion each year.  These expenses are for things like fixing leaky manure lagoons, lost productivity of farmland, and devaluation of real estate near factory farms.

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