The meat and dairy industries cost the U.S taxpayer around $414 billion a year, according to lawyer David Simon, author of the book MEATONOMICS.
Simon explains the breakdown in a video shared by advocacy organization Million Dollar Vegan (MDV), which encourages and supports people to sign its 31-day pledge and give a plant-based diet a go, giving them a free Vegan Starter Kit.
According to the author, these huge hidden costs include bills for subsidies, healthcare, environmental damage, and other items related to producing and consuming meat and dairy products.
False low price
Simon says this means this creates artificially low pricing, and without subsidies, a $5 Big Mac would cost $13, so effectively, when McDonald’s sells one of the sandwiches, U.S taxpayers pay $8 in hidden costs. This is because 'animal food producers are externalizing the vast majority of their costs and shifting those costs onto the backs of consumers and taxpayers in society rather than bearing those costs themselves', he explains.
The animal food industry working with the government makes it difficult for consumers to make informed choices and independent decisions about what to eat through this 'very aggressive price manipulation', as well as pro-meat and dairy messaging which 'bombard consumers throughout all media, TV, radio, magazine ads, bus ads [and], convince us that we need to be eating more animal foods.
"That drives prices down and that double whammy of low prices and aggressive messaging is having a tremendous influence on consumers in this country," he says. "People eat somewhere around 200lb of meat per person per year which has basically doubled in the last 70 years as a result of programs like this, price reductions, messaging."
He adds: "In the book, I add up the total of those costs and I conclude that for a recent year, it was about $414 billion, that's billion with a B. It's a very big number. It's over half of what we spend on Medicare in this country, it's much larger than the annual budgets for many countries. It's an enormous figure.
"They're pulling that off by among other things, passing aggressive legislation at the state and federal level that allows them to avoid the legal and economic consequences for their behavior. They pass ag-gag laws that say we can't be investigated, we can't be photographed, we can't be filmed, nobody knows what's going on."
According to Simon, animal ag is not the only industry that externalizes costs. He cites the oil and tobacco industries - but says 'the animal food industry, in my estimate, has been better at it than any other industry in this country'.
As a result of successful cost externalization, animal foods 'do appear to be inexpensive based on the supermarket prices' but we 'fail to understand that those low prices have tremendous negative consequences for us in other ways'.
"Those low prices are driving us to eat much more of these products than we would otherwise and that is why Americans have among the highest rates in the world of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease," he says.
"We have about almost three times the rate of cancer as the rest of the world in this country, almost directly related to the consumption of meat. Yes, you can pay a little less for a hamburger but in a few decades, you're gonna have cancer. Is it really worth it?"