By government subsidies I mean money provided by the government (presumably originating from taxes) to farmers which artificially reduces the price of beef. This includes subsidies for animal feed which indirectly have this effect.

What does this have to do with being veg*n? Suppose I'm arguing with an omnivore who claims that veganism is too expensive. I counter that eating meat is much more expensive but the cost is hidden in taxes which everyone, including vegans, are forced to pay. The strength of my counter depends on the answer to this question. If it turns out that meat would only cost 5% more, I should reevaluate my position and avoid ever making such a claim. If meat would cost 2 to 3 times more and there's an answer explaining why in detail, I'd like to share that answer with my opponent.

I'm not only interested in either beef or the US, but it was decided I should narrow the scope of the question down. If you can answer this question for a different country and/or animal product, please write another question, answer it, and comment with a link to said question.

  • 1
    The question depends hugely on the country. Take the EU, where meat is heavily subsidised. Take most african countries, where it isn't. I suggest you narrow the question down to a country and a more specific product (i.e. pork and beef).
    – Turion
    Feb 15 '17 at 9:06
  • Are there direct links or requirements to lower prices as a result of subsidies or does the money just go to the bottom line? Seems like foreign competition and what the market will pay for meat may be bigger factors in controlling prices.
    – JeffO
    Mar 8 '17 at 2:06

According to this video by MinuteEarth, a grocery bill of $200 including all kinds of food would cost an additional:

  1. $10 if not for various forms of government subsidies.
  2. $25 if people somehow paid in advance for the health costs of antibiotic resistance and diseases caused by eating animal products.
  3. $240 if people paid upfront for the environmental impact of animal agriculture, particularly air and water pollution and soil erosion.

So government subsidies have a noticeable effect, but unless these figures are significantly off, a discussion of how veganism would save money on a societal level should definitely focus much more on the environment.

The calculations and references leading to these conclusions are linked to in the video description and here.

For the sake of interest, they also mention these hidden costs which were not included:

  • damage from sea level rise and hurricanes from climate change (not included in most measures of the social cost of carbon),
  • cost of agriculture's contribution to the dead zone in Gulf of Mexico,
  • empathy/altruism costs to humans from low animal welfare (see Lusk & Norwood 2011: Speciesism, altruism and the economics of animal welfare) (although we earlier estimated this as $7 per trip)
  • costs to the animals of low animal welfare,
  • low wellbeing of slaughterhouse workers (most sick days of any US labor sector)
  • most impacts related to fisheries.

This is a tricky question. As you pointed out, meat subsidies don't just come in the form of a check written from the government to the meat industries. As well as money, there are the lack of regulations and enforcement, feed subsidies for corn and grain, water subsidies, pro-meat advertising, and other advantages.

PETA claims that a $5 Big Mac would cost $13 without subsidies, so a 160% price increase.

The USDA say that the beef industry was worth 105bn in 2015, and according to PETA meat subsidies are 34bn/year, so that would mean a 29% price increase to maintain the same profitability without that 34bn.

In short, I don't think that anybody can accurately answer this question because of the intricacies involved in all the different ways that the meat industry benefits from the government, but it's quite clear that the price of meat without subsidies would not be an insignificant raise.

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