The Hidden Cost of Food

The Hidden Cost of Food

A trip to the supermarket can be expensive, but when you figure in the hidden cost of food, it is staggering how much we are really paying to support industrial agriculture. 

The USDA estimates that Americans spend 1.5 trillion dollars a year on food.  This figure includes spending at the grocery store, restaurants and every other place where we buy food.  1.5 trillion dollars represents the dollar cost of the food we buy.  But what about the hidden costs that we never hear about and seldom consider?

Hidden Health Costs

Hidden costs are, by their nature, hard to measure and hard to estimate.  Often these costs are tertiary, resulting from consequences of our actions rather than directly by the action themselves.  In this case, the costs represent health costs directly related to the quality of the food we eat.

It is generally accepted that many of the most expensive to treat chronic illnesses are somehow related to our diet.  In the United States, health care spending on chronic disease accounts for 86% of the total health care spending or about 2.5 trillion dollars. 

hidden cost of food - sugar lumps

Credit Suisse estimates that health care spending directly related to the overconsumption of sugar to be 1 trillion dollars per year.   Adverse reactions to food dyes add another 5 billion dollars to the hidden costs.  The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the public health costs related to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock could be as much as 2 billion dollars.  Pesticide poisonings and the illnesses related to pesticide and herbicide use are estimated to add another 1 billion dollars to the total.

In all, just the hidden health care costs could be doubling the amount we spend on food that comes from industrial agriculture. 

Environmental Costs

The use of synthetic chemicals to support industrial agriculture imparts hidden costs as well.  If we overlook the fact that the food produced using synthetic chemicals is less nutritious than food grown naturally which contributes to the hidden health care costs, the infiltration of all these chemicals into the environment is a disaster in and of itself. 

glyphosate spraying

The most well-known example is glyphosate.  Glyphosate is perhaps the most widely used agricultural chemical in the world.  It is so pervasive that it is now being found in almost every product we purchase in the supermarket from breakfast cereals to baby formula. 

The overuse of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers has other side effects.  When used heavily, it tends to wash out of the soil and into the water systems which provide much of our drinking water.  This overabundance of nitrogen causes algae blooms which affect fish hatcheries and water quality.  Some researches estimate that the cost of nitrogen pollution from growing corn on industrial farms is more than twice the market value of the corn.

Monoculture farming, the practice of growing a single species crop over hundreds or thousands of acres creates erosion problems.  Land that is used in monoculture farming has a greater tendency to erosion by wind and water.  In 2010, research shows that 1.72 billion tons of topsoil were lost to erosion.  It takes nature about 100 years to produce 1 inch of topsoil. Farmers a letting the very foundation of their production systems simply blow away.

The hidden cost of food – So many more

These examples represent only a few of the hidden costs of our food.  We have not looked at social costs, transportation costs, or a host of others.  For more information about this subject, visit our website for a list of research and more in-depth reading about these hidden costs involved in feeding America. 

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller


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