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Why Your Salad Costs More than a Burger: The Truth About Government Subsidization of the Meat & Dairy Industries

January 20, 2021

Ever wonder why fresh fruit and vegetables are so expensive, when a fast food cheeseburger can cost as little as $1?Why is it that healthier foods seem to be more expensive than less healthy foods? Government subsidies are the reason why.

American agribusiness receives about $38 billion annually in federal funding, with only 0.4% of that amount subsidizing the production of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Since the Great Depression, the US government has paid farmers money to grow food. Agricultural subsidies were originally intended to stabilize markets, support farmers through tough times, and reliably provide food to American families. Government support of the farmers who provide us with all our daily food necessities is in itself not a bad thing, but it is the way that these funds are unevenly distributed that lead to many of the problems we see today. According to data from the book, Meatonomics, American agribusiness receives about $38 billion annually in federal funding, with only 0.4% of that amount subsidizing the production of fresh fruit and vegetables. The remainder of taxpayer-funded farm subsidies are skewed toward animal meat producers, in the form of aid to growers of corn and soybeans, crops grown primarily by industrial farms for use in animal feed production. The high level of support that factory farms receive from the federal government makes animal meat production a highly profitable business venture.

The effect of a handful of select crops becoming so efficient at yielding a profit, is that it makes farmers less inclined to grow anything else. Just 3% of cropland is dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables, though they make up about a quarter of the value of total crops grown, because they demand higher prices. Yet, if government spending disproportionately favors the meat and dairy industries, how are Americans supposed to get enough fruits and vegetables into their diets? The fact is, they don’t.

The CDC  reports that just 1 in 10 adults meet federal fruit and vegetable recommendations, with adults living in poverty consuming the fewest fruits/vegetables.

According to the USDA guidelines, fruits and vegetables should make up 50% of your plate at any given meal. Most Americans are in no way close to meeting that amount. The CDC  reports that just 1 in 10 adults meet federal fruit and vegetable recommendations, with adults living in poverty consuming the fewest fruits/vegetables. There are a variety of complex socio-economic reasons factoring into why so many Americans are unable to meet official nutritional goals set by federal food agencies, affordability being one of them. Yet, the current state of the country’s broken food production system certainly does not help remedy the problem.

Government subsidization of fattening animal-based products, like cheese and processed meats, lowers the price of those commodities, which means that consumers are likely to buy more of it at the expense of ignoring healthier plant-based options. This is especially true for poor Americans who can afford little else. Additionally, there are health consequences to the lowest costing foods also being the least nutritionally balanced. Research suggests that consuming too much food made from subsidized farm products can boost people’s risk of heart disease, establishing a link between farm subsidies and poor nationwide health trends. Datalike this implicates the U.S. government for its role in promoting unhealthy eating habits. Clearly, there is a contradiction between the industries that the U.S. government subsidizes and the advice it gives about healthy food choices in official dietary guidelines.

In the United States, our dietary choices are influenced by government policies that affect the cost and availability of food. Unfortunately, most taxpayer-funded subsidies go toward factory-farmed animal products at the expense of our collective health.

Cassandra Zimon is an FFAC fellow and an undergraduate sociology student at Reed College.

Sharing this article helps raise awareness about the impact of factory farming on humans, animals, and the environment.

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