July 22, 2021
A new report from the Rockefeller Foundation says that the “true cost” of food in the United States is at least three times what consumers now spend. The report claims that on top of $1.1 trillion per year in current spending, society also pays another $2.1 trillion in externalities – costs created by the food supply, but not reflected in food prices.
The foundation report identifies health care and environmental costs as the largest externalities. Health costs would include increases in non-communicable diseases, such as more strokes due to higher blood pressure resulting from over-consuming salt. Environmental costs would include greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.
The report acknowledges that there are also benefits – such as a safe food supply – that are not fully reflected in food prices. And critics might note that if “true costs” were really reflected in food prices, low-income communities would suffer most since they spend a higher share of disposable income on food, compared to wealthier individuals. The report advocates addressing that problem through expanding “nutrition safety nets.”
The Rockefeller report does not quantify the “true cost” of individual foods, but does make some estimates by sectors, asserting that of $300 billion in costs from greenhouse gas emissions, livestock production accounts for a larger share than crop cultivation. The upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit will likely discuss the “true cost of food” concept extensively, as it has gained increasing attention recently.
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