The True Cost of Hamburgers (Video)

Written by Brian Merchant

On average, Americans eat three burgers a week. That may sound surprising in statistic form, but it squares pretty evenly with our nation’s fast food infatuation.

It’s also the very first factoid presented in this neat little video, ‘the Hidden Cost of Hamburgers’, from the Center for Investigative Reporting (the same folks who did the great ‘Hidden Cost of Gas’) that seeks to educate viewers about the true cost of our beefy eating habits.

A hamburger may cost you like 99 cents at Wendy’s, but there are a slew of additional costs that those beef pattied buns impose on society at large—environmental impacts of beef production, extra health care costs for obesity-related issues, etc. As such, CIR calculates that every burger costs us an additional $1.51 in hidden costs, which adds up to $72 million in extra costs a year.

The group explains at its website: (via Grist)

We looked at a range of ways beef is produced and came up with an average that is close to how a cow would be raised in Fresno, Calif.: about 1 pound of greenhouse gases per ounce of beef, or about 6½ pounds of greenhouse gases per quarter-pounder. We looked at studies that showed the health costs of treating overweight people and associated illnesses, such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes — that’s about 75 cents per burger. Then we looked at how much water it takes to produce a pound of beef — that’s about 50 cents per burger.

We also looked at the price of a ton of carbon — that’s remarkably small for the U.S., less than one-hundredth of a penny. But in the European Union, because it has a functioning carbon market, the price would be about a nickel per burger. Daniel Lopez Dias, the lead economist on the calculations, notes that these figures are conservative and don’t include effects from air and water pollution, effects of low wages that slaughterhouse workers receive and the high risk of injury they face, or general effects of urban sprawl.

The point is, of course, that those costs don’t cut into the fast food companies and industrial-scale ranchers’ profit margins; instead, the public absorbs the true price of hamburgers.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Related Stories:

USDA Backs Off Meatless Mondays After Livestock Producers Cry Foul

Is Meat The World’s Most Inefficient Food?

How To Become a Vegetarian in One Easy Bite


Photo: Youtube screen capture


Jim Ven
Jim Venyesterday

thanks for sharing.

Lorraine B.
Lorraine Boegle4 years ago

it is good to see others coming to the defense of eating red meat, these are the people that HAVE DONE EXTENSIVE RESEARCH PRESENTED FROM different angles and research, they will show the benefits and the pitfalls and don't try to condem for someone not wanting to eat meat, or veggies, I for one was raised around the growing and preparations of chickes, hogs and cattle to be used for human consumption, when the time was right for butcher they were humanely and quicky dispatched, not MURDERED as many people shout, you hear so many people saying livestock are still alive when hung because they move, guess what, they are brain dead, only their reflexes jerk, they are DEAD, the reason they are hung is to make sure the blood is out of them and of course it will run to the lowest point.
This is normal, death is normal, I am not asking you to go and watch the death of anything, and I have not tried to make it a crime to eat all the green veggies, in fact that just leaves more meat for the rest of us!
I cannot believe there are so many uninformed people as to the how and why about the slaughter of cattle or the consumption of meat!
Now I suppose I am going to be ripped apart over this post, its OK, its OK I am a 75 year old meat eater, that had lived on a ranch, when I was a kid you raised your own meat, because it was so expensive for a $2.00 hr. wage earner to buy at a "Butcher Shop", bet most of you have never heard of a "Butcher Shop"

Erica B.
Erica B.4 years ago

"The fact that organic meat is healthy doesn't stop the warnings against all red meat because some have the "All Meat Is Evil" blinkers on."...Dale O.

Dale, I've been saying the same thing for 2 years now on Care2, but none in the "all or nothing" crowd can be swayed. So, I post a comment or two about my opinion, then brace myself for the more extreme of the vegans to pounce on me. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and everyone should be given the respect to voice their opinion without fear of being bullied or labeled.

I agree that organic meat is healthier, but I also want to see people purchasing meat that comes from animals that are treated humanely, and are slaughtered humanely too. Humane slaughter means an animal is not subjected to the stress of long distance shipping, nor the stress and fear that comes with crowded slaughter yards...and their brain is quickly stunned so there is no pain when slaughtered. If people ARE going to eat meat, those that choose organic and Certified Humane should be applauded instead of labeled as "murderers" and "corpse munchers." Only choosing to see the negative ("eating any type of meat is evil") and not acknowledging the positive ("eating humanely sourced meat is a good choice") makes the vegans who behave this way appear harsh and extremist. If a vegan wants people to listen to vegan ideas..."you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Jack Everett
Jack Everett4 years ago

The vegetables sold to Americans coming from Mexico and other low grade food producers are just as dangerous as the low grade beef sold to Americans. We also have the Monsanto scam to deal with in our food crops.

Dan B.
Dan Brook4 years ago

For lots of free info and links about the *many* benefits of vegetarianism/veganism (and the many problems with the production and consumption of meat), please visit (and share)

Eco-Eating at

Dan B.
Dan Brook4 years ago

For lots of free info and links about the *many* benefits of vegetarianism/veganism (and the many problems with the production and consumption of meat), please visit (and share)

Eco-Eating at

Dale Overall

A previous comment didn't get on - am now reposting - normally I don't as it usually turns up later on as some comments take a few hours to show up but this time the Facebook sign in thing appeared and then went blank. If this has been posted twice, apologies.

Yes Mit W, red meat that is organic can be enjoyed without health risks if you eat a moderate amount as with many things. Some people simply will not accept the fact that organic meat is safe, they prefer to rail on about the factory farm crud that no one has to purchase if they wish to eat healthfully. Their mindset is to stop eating all meat and nothing but No Meat Ever! satisfies them. The fact that organic meat is healthy doesn't stop the warnings against all red meat because some have the "All Meat Is Evil" blinkers on. It is a Cause to endlessly Advocate for until every last meat eater is converted to veganism/vegetarianism. It is all black and white.
Organic meat obviously is not available at fast food joints since franchises are more interested in profits over health. Amusing video.

While visiting Wendy's with a friend (she asked me to stop so she could get a drink) a sign proclaimed: "We've satisfied your hunger now we want to feed your mind." One has to cringe and wonder with what? Hormones and factory farmed antibiotics?" No thanks, if I want a non-greasy and healthy burger I can make my own with organic beef.

Latonya W.
Latonya W.4 years ago

If u spend all this money to make hamburgers then why not charge a bunch of money selling it......then obesity might just decrease........smdh

Jack Everett
Jack Everett4 years ago

Our food supply is bad period. Our federal inspectors do not do their jobs when they find hazardous products because they are taking payoffs to hide the facts. When their is a food inspectors that tells the truth about food they are fired like the inspector that bough the pink slime scandal to public attention.

I still believe a balanced died of meat and veggies is the right way to go the problem is finding food that is not tainted with preservatives and other hazardous chemicals being forced on us.

Shiyue Tao
Shiyue Tao4 years ago

i don't like hamburgers