About 34 minutes into the 2014 Documentary Cowspiracy, there is a statement by David Simon, the author of Meatonomics, about hidden costs of animal food production.

I've added up the costs of animal food production, that the producers, don't actually bear themselves. These are the hidden costs, or the externalized costs that they impose on society. And those are in categories like healthcare, environmental damage, subsidies, damage to fisheries, and even cruelty...

If you take those externalized costs, which are about 414 billion dollars, if the meat and dairy industries were required to internalize those costs, if they had to bear those costs themselves, the costs of, the retail prices of meat and dairy would skyrocket. So a $5 carton of eggs would go to $13. A $4 Big Mac would go to $11. Whether you eat meat or not, whether you are an omnivore or an herbivore, you are paying part of the costs of somebody else's consumption. So that when somebody goes into a McDonald's and buys a Bic Mac for $4, there is another $7 of costs that's imposed on society. I'm paying that; you're paying that. Whether you eat meat or not.

I couldn't find any other research backing up the above figures; only reports of and references to the above person's claims.

Is the above estimate of the externalized costs a realistic figure?

  • 7
    The concept of externalities is nothing new. You can take a look at the wikipedia page for examples in other industries. Do you want to know if externalities (and their costs) exist or if Cowspiracy presents accurate figures ? Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 14:19
  • 4
    @SeriousSarah I am mostly curious about the accuracy of the figures. I added the question whether it was unique or not, because I actually want to know if the same could be said for non-meat-and-dairy products. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 14:40
  • 1
    The first exemple I can think of is the alcohol and tocabbo industries. In a lot of countries, governments levy heavy taxes on liquors and cigarettes, but they often don't cover the full costs of cancer treatments. More generally any industry that polutes the air or water, makes people (employees, customers, neighbors...) sick, or simply makes a lot of noise, without paying any compensation for these things, creates externalized costs. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 14:58
  • 10
    I don't know what method they used to put a price on cruelty, though. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 15:01
  • 2
    I'm sure there are externalities and we all pay them. The actual question here is whether these very large estimates of those costs are credible. (perhaps they are ) just some mad hallucination caused by a lack of meat in the diet ;-)
    – matt_black
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 16:44


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .