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Considering the True Cost of How Meat Is Raised

By   /  September 7, 2015  /  4 Comments

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When someone asks you, “Why does pasture finished meat cost so much more than what I’ve been buying all along in the grocery store?” do you have a good answer? Kendra Kimbirauskas, a food activist, legislative aide, and small diversified farmer has some answers that we thought would be helpful to you.

An example of hog barns and sewage lagoons.

An example of hog barns and sewage lagoons.

Kendra raises pastured hogs on her farm, so the differences in the cost of pork is what she focuses on in this video from Cooking Up a Story. But her answers could apply to beef and poultry as well. Concentrated animal feeding operations benefit from economies of scale. So it can be sold at a lower cost.  But as Kendra explains, “The costs aren’t gone. They just might not be what you’re paying out of your pocketbook.  There are going to be environmental costs associated with raising so many animals in such close confinement. There are going to be economic justice issues…There are potentially health costs…What happens when your antibiotics don’t work anymore because antibiotics have been overused in pork production?”

Kendra brings up these issues and more as examples of costs that we all bear because of the way we as a society raise our food.  We appreciate inexpensive food and most of us don’t know about or think about the other costs involved. But when we advocate change, it’s also important to consider the potential impact on a society that relies on low-cost food, and that sometimes, even as cheap as it is, there are segments of society that still can’t afford it.

It is a complex issue, but one that deserves some measured discussion. Meanwhile, for those interested in pasture finished products, they might appreciate knowing what the price includes.


Tablet readers, here’s your link.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

4 Comments

  1. garry wilson says:

    How come the positives of natural always sound like a slam to confinement ?

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Hi Garry,

      Your point is well taken and I thought about it as I was getting this piece ready for publication. I don’t think that there’s a one size fits all answer, and there may be benefits from confinement, beyond the lower cost of food. In fact, some research suggests that when comparing greenhouse gas emissions, including those that come from crop production, some confinement operations may be better for the environment than pasture raised. It’s complicated, and when things are complicated it’s good to begin gathering lots of information and talk about what we as a society need and want. So this is just one aspect of that conversation that I hope we can continue to have.

  2. Gene Schriefer says:

    After the farm gate, processing costs are also subject to economies of scale. Utilizing the small local processor is horrendously expensive which is passed on to the consumer compared with a large meat processor.

  3. Don Keener says:

    Large hog farms have no incentive to not capture the costs of handling the hogs, it reduces the amount of taxes they pay. And with antibiotics, they now rotate their drugs to minimize the problems you get with over use. I am not a pig farmer, I raise cattle, but I would think the period of time they keep the pigs before slaughter is short and if you have a good health program they should not need major drugs. Also, they now have better ways of getting rid of the manure so that it doesn’t end up in creeks and rivers.

    Pasture raised hogs can do major damage to pastures/fences, etc. when they escape and they will. Come to Texas and we can show you what the impact is. Regarding the quality of your product, I have no argument it has to be better and worth the extra cost!

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