The True Cost of Meat: Demystifying Agricultural Subsidies

One of the most important factors affecting national and global food supplies is the amount of money which governments pay out in subsidies to farmers. Currently this is heavily weighted towards animal agriculture, making the cost of meat artificially low.

Your tax money is paying for farmers to use and abuse these animals, and it’s making it an affordable business model when in fact the real cost of producing meat would leave the livestock industry making a net loss.

Something has to be awry when a chicken’s life is reduced to a price tag, and when that price tag is less than what it costs to buy a punnet of strawberries, you have to start asking how and why.

If the government were to stop paying out huge sums of money to animal farmers and redistribute these funds to those wishing to grow fruits, vegetables and crops for human consumption, many of the world’s food issues would disappear (along with the environmental and animal rights issues too).

The Meat Atlas

The Meat Atlas is one of the most fascinating studies on the world’s agricultural industries ever to be released. It highlights just how much money is pumped into the animal agriculture sectors around the world, and how this is making meat prices drop lower than in a natural economy. Barbara Unmüßig, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, who created this report says that, “In many countries, consumers are fed up with being deluded by the agribusiness. Instead of using public money to subsidize factory farms – as in the United States and European Union, consumers want reasonable policies that promote ecologically, socially and ethically sound livestock production.” So who is benefiting from the subsidies, and how is this money being spent?

Direct Meat Subsidies

Many governments directly subsidize animal agriculture ventures by paying farmers for each animal they have, providing as much as 40 percent of the cost of new animal housing, and directly subsidizing fodder crop businesses (which make the animal feed costs much lower for farmers). The sums of money we’re talking about here are shocking and “these subsidies are often distributed true to the motto: the bigger the company, the higher the subsidy.” This means that vast sums of money are being paid to huge multinational companies, helping them to increase their profits, whilst simultaneously sentencing more and more animals to the horrific conditions of these factory farms.

Photo credit: Meat Atlas

This image shows the Meat Atlas’ estimated industry figures demonstrating just how much government money is being pumped into the different sectors of animal agriculture. As you can see, the industries which are most land and resource intensive required the highest subsidies to support them, with the beef and veal industry sucking up 18 billion dollars, the milk industry 15.3 billion, and the pig meat industry 7.3 billion.

These costs are only based on direct subsidies paid to farmers in OECD countries, for animals and feed, and do not account for the countless other ways in which the industries are being indirectly funded through lower tax rates, assisted transport and shipping costs, and enhanced localized infrastructure being provided to ensure operations are successful.

The Hidden Environmental Costs

Another hidden cost associated with the animal agriculture industry is the immeasurable negative impact on the environment. It’s no secret that the UN and others have widely acknowledged that animal farming practices are responsible for increasing amounts of environmental damage and destruction. Surely if governments were serious about making an impact on climate change, they’d be looking at the mountain of evidence supporting the notion that animal agriculture is far more destructive and polluting than crop, fruit and vegetable farming, and they’d be supporting the most environmentally friendly and sustainable food choices?

The Alternative

Our farming practices need a radical rethink if we’re to stand a chance in creating a more sustainable food system.

If we stopped subsidizing a cruel and inhumane industry and instead subsidized fruit and vegetables, everyone would reap the benefits. Rather than being stuck in an unfair and unjust system which puts barriers between the general public and their ability to access and afford fresh fruit and vegetables, shifting subsidies away from animal products could literally create a global food revolution that could transform lives the world over.

Photo Credit: Meat Atlas


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Maggie Welch
Maggie D4 years ago

The government should not be subsidizing ANY business. That's why a free market is so important. If the government would allow a free market and the subsidizing ended the animal farmers, except those who could stand on their own feet, would go out of business eliminating the environmental damage and making way for fruit and vegetable crops. On the top of my list is the end of abuse and slaughter of animals.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson4 years ago

Meat is expensive to grow and to eat.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

What if that plate full of dead animal raised in cruelty was human meat.. no difference. As long as it was "politically correct" most humans would have no problem switching over to killing and eating children in a heartbeat, and discuss the pros and cons of their "soylent green". Yes the human race is that horrific and degraded.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

We need to stop all subsidies, they are just hand-outs and really help no one except the companies getting them...if the company can't stand on it's own, let it fail.

Melania Padilla
Melania P5 years ago

All CAFO´s should be banned! We are killing the planet and abusing animals for cheap meat!

Fi T.
Past Member 5 years ago

We can afford this cost

Elizabeth Zehren
Elizabeth Z5 years ago

Completely disgusting.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

If the government is going to subsidize the big farms, what is the problem with more funding for the food stamp programs? Those with little money can't afford enough even low priced food.