Cutting the Lifeline of the Meat Industry: Government Subsidies

The problem is that thanks to government subsidization, the costs of meat products are artificially low, effectively tricking consumers into buying them. Consequently, only a small, thoughtful minority of people in the western world presently adhere to a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism has been limited those who are able to buck the trends of society at large.

Despite increasing awareness of the benefits of vegetarianism, meat production continues to rise around the globe. According to the WorldWatch Institute, world meat production has increased by nearly 5 times since 1950, escalating from 44 million tons to 211 million tons in 1997. Americans remain world leaders in this alarming trend. Despite cautions from the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Dietetic Association, and the National Academy of Sciences, the average American consumes nearly twice his or her body weight in meat each year. Simultaneously, U.S.-based businesses are becoming increasingly aggressive in pushing the meat-habit on the rest of the world.

For vegetarians and environmental activists, it’s a disturbing situation. While education on the health dangers of meat is at an all-time high in the United States and other western countries, global meat consumption continues to skyrocket. The trend of increasing meat consumption demonstrates that education, while laudable, is not sufficient to dramatically change most consumers’ dietary choices.

When it boils down to the practicality of people’s food choices on a daily basis, most choose on the basis of cost and convenience, not optimum health for themselves and the planet. So when a hamburger costs 39 cents or 89 cents (!) at McDonald’s and takes 1-5 minutes to purchase and a GardenBurger costs $4.99 and takes 5-25 minutes to purchase (or may not even be available), too often the hamburger wins out! And of course for the 1 out of 6 Americans who receive federal food assistance, the choice may often come down to a meat-based meal or no meal at all!

These factors of cost, availability and convenience are the overriding factors in most consumers’ food decisions, not what is best for them or the planet. John Robbins writes in Diet for a New America that if consumers paid for the cost of water subsidization alone, the cheapest California hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound! With the cost of other subsidies added in (such as feed, grazing land, etc.), hamburger meat would be even more expensive! Realistically, how many consumers would purchase meat products if the actual costs were passed down to them? Not very many!

The problem is that thanks to government subsidization, the costs of meat products are artificially low, effectively tricking consumers into buying them. Consequently, only a small, thoughtful minority of people in the western world presently adhere to a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism has been limited those who are able to buck the trends of society at large.

Yet we know that it’s not enough for a thoughtful small minority of the world to adopt a vegetarian diet. In order to save human society and the planet from impending devastation, rapid, dramatic change is what must happen. To stem the tide of blood which is flooding the globe, we must cut the lifeline of the meat industry, this social and environmental monster. In the United States, and in many countries, that lifeline is the stalwart support of the federal government. The U.S. government has been funding, protecting, and promoting the meat industry for over 5 decades. They have supported the meat industry with billions of dollars of subsidization every year. Now, they are using their power and influence to pave the way for the meat industry to find new victims all around the world.

In the United States it will take tremendous political pressure to end government support of the meat industry. However, through the determined efforts of vegetarian and environmental activists, such radical social change is possible and is required. We must band together in a united effort, for in a democracy, there is strength in numbers. The United States government is meant to be “of the people, for the people and by the people” and we are the people. There is no reason why self-proclaimed vegetarians, who constitute 10 to 15% of the U.S. population, cannot effect the same kind of radical change that committed black Americans accomplished in the 1960’s. Our cause is certainly no less just.

…if consumers paid for the cost of water subsidization alone, the cheapest California hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound!

What you have in your mind?