Paying $8 for eggs — or incurring the externalized costs of agribiz farming

From Tom Philpott on Mother Jones:

“Over on the Atlantic site, the food politics writer Jane Black has a thoughtful post on farmers market sticker shock in brownstone Brooklyn.

Confronted at her neigborhood market by the spectacle of $8/dozen eggs—which had sold out, no less—Black frets that “that the ‘good-food-costs-more’ argument is being taken to an extreme that puts at risk the goal of a mass food-reform movement, which is to make good food available to the greatest number of people possible.”

Black goes on to do a bit of analysis on the $8/dozen farmer’s production model and reckons that he probably isn’t just sticking it to Brooklyn yuppies: “It turns out that’s what it costs him to produce his eggs,” because he uses a labor-intensive pasture-based system and feeds his birds organic corn, which is much more expensive than conventional.

So we have a genuine quandary here: A farmer who’s just scraping by while doing the right thing by his land and his birds, charging a price that makes the whole concept of alternative food systems seem hopelessly elitist.

Meanwhile, at my local Walmart in Boone, North Carolina, a dozen eggs will set you back just $1.18. Those 10-cent eggs, of course, are produced in vast, fetid factories, sucking in huge amounts of environmentally ruinous corn and concentrating much more manure than can properly be absorbed into surrounding farmland.

What’s the answer to the dilemma described by Black? Can we eat affordably without destroying the ecological means of production? I doubt it; that is, not as long as our regulatory agencies sit idly while gigantic companies turn abuse—of labor, the environment, and animals—into a business model. How much of a hidden subsidy does big agribusiness reap from our lax regulatory regime, some of which it pockets in profit and some of which it passes on to consumers in the form of stuff like 10-cent eggs and $2-a-pound pork chops?

Ralph Loglisci of the Center for a Livable Future pointed me to a report (PDF), part of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, that examines that precise question with regard to another product that’s cheap in the supermarket and expensive at the farmer’s market: pork.

Coauthored by Daryll Ray—a University of Tennessee ag economist whose work I revere—the report finds that under current regulations, producing hogs in vast factories is significantly cheaper than raising them on pasture. But if you made the giant hog factories deal properly with the vast amount of toxic waste they produce, the price difference reverses. In other words, a Walmart value-pack of pork chops would cost significantly more per pound than the pasture-raised ones that give you sticker shock at the farmers market….”

Read it all on Mother Jones.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Paying $8 for eggs — or incurring the externalized costs of agribiz farming

  1. As Milkmen who deliver farm fresh foods to consumers, buying direct from farms; we know that it costs real money for real food. Food should all be eaten that is Organic/Bio-Dynamic. Many farmers are afraid to feed their animals and plant their crops with all natural means. They fear the consumers will not pay for it. Their costs are high because the buyer system is like Wal-Mart. Consumers will pay higher prices and can pay more if they are educated.. Meanwhile an area close to us in The Hudson River Valley, New York; most or all corn crops you see there as you drive by are GMO’s. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are also a problem. And you can forget these Veggie Wash cleaner/products you see in the retail food store chains. Most of them do not work. There are water ionization machines that can remove pesticides from Vegetables and Fruit skins. Use them and watch the chemicals fall from them.

    Farmers have still not subscribed to Organic because of costs. The person who sold these eggs for $8 is justified. People without tons of money, who are educated and refined, who care about their health; will buy these eggs and other foods. An egg for .66 is a good deal. You have two eggs for breakfast and it costs you $1.32. So what! There are those who would much rather spend this money than eat junk, chemical infested, GMO, etc., foods. Class has nothing to do with money. It is about education, care, fairness, care for yourselves and each other and the earth. Good food should never be cheap.

    Selfishness and greed has taken down many civilizations, many empires. Ours is falling. And obviously Big business and corrupt government officials (not all government is corrupt, only most) have something to do with this.

    You know the Honeymoon is over when the comedians start.

    “The liberals are asking us to give Obama time. We agree……….. and think 25 to life would be appropriate.” – Jay Leno

    Question: “Have you heard about McDonald’s new Obama Value Meal?”
    Answer: Order anything you like and the guy behind you has to pay for it.” – Conan O’Brien

    Eight Dollars for Eggs. If they are what he says they are then guess what? They are worth it.

    When you have the chance, see who is trying to now control “Food – Hubs.”

    Food has done more than simply provide sustenance. It has acted as a catalyst of social transformation, societal organization, geopolitical competition, industrial development, military conflict, and economic expansion.

    So, we know why “they” want to control the food supply. So they can control us.

    “The fate of nations hangs upon their choice of food.”
    – Jean-Anthelme-Savarin

    Our fate and the fate of the natural world – all Land and Sea Animals and Plants; depends on our choice as to just how much longer we eat the garbage that they are growing, processing, selling, promoting, and distributing to us. We do not have to eat this. The choice is yours.

    Thank you.

    Milkmen USA

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