Generally I try to avoid writing about politically-charged topics because the facts are difficult to navigate. Every potential source article may or may not have an agenda skewing its figures. My own goal for today is to do my part to help with some education about the food we shove in our collective faces, but I’m having to tread carefully.
There are a lot of organizations/people offering calculations of the “true” cost of a hamburger. I’ve found number ranging from $50 to $200, or just a non-quantified list of side-effects from the beef industry. In an effort to be conservative with my facts, I’ll just say that your 99 cent hamburger costs more than 99 cents.
One third of the grain crops in the world (this being the very same world with a shortage of good farming land) goes to feeding livestock. It takes about 12 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef.
Grazing land for cattle is the leading motivation for cutting down forests (most notably the rainforests of Brazil and India). I don’t like the hype around “global warming”, but this is a concern. Cows produce more greenhouse gas than our automobiles, while simultaneously needing to remove our leafy green air filtering friends from the face of the earth.
Livestock are injected with 50 percent of the antibiotics used in the world. To me, the troubling part is that these are largely preventative measures. Which means, for the most part, these antibiotics are unnecessary. What it does is give the bacteria the chance to interact and evolve to become immune to these antibiotics requiring new, stronger antibiotics. (the microbial arms race)
The last consideration I’m going to mention is water use. Not only the amount of water running through the livestock production system but the gross amount of pollutants that are flushed out the other end. Taking 8 percent of global water use, and leaving behind a third of all nitrogen and phosphorous pollutants.
Unfortunately, all this back-end stuff is not showing up in that 99 cent hamburger price tag. Somebody else, and most often somebody far away from you, is footing the bill.
Here in Canada we were the first to put strong health facts on cigarette packages, showing pictures of lung cancer and other negative considerations of the product within. I’m curious what would happen if the same thing would be required on the hamburger box.