Dollar menu cheeseburgers might cost a lot more if we factored the impacts of climate change into the price.
A new study reports that food production’s environmental damage isn’t factored into the final cost. Researchers from Augsburg University in Germany published the findings in the journal Nature Communications.
If it was, meat would cost 146 percent more, researchers found. Dairy products would have to be 91 percent more expensive than they currently are.
“We ourselves were surprised by the big difference between the food groups investigated and the resulting mispricing of animal-based food products in particular,” said Tobias Gaugler, study co-author and an economist and sustainability researcher at Augsburg University.
A ‘Major Impact’ on Demand
“If these market mispricing errors were to cease to exist or at least be reduced, this would also have a major impact on the demand for food,” added Amelie Michalke, study co-author and a doctoral candidate at the University of Greifswald.
The new study also found that the climate impact of land use is primarily caused by clearing rainforests and draining peatlands in order to grow animal feed.
Food production is responsible for approximately a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, per a 2018 study published in the journal Science. Animal agriculture and fisheries account for 31 percent of food production. While crop production is linked to 27 percent of food emissions, 6 percent is used for animal feed. Additionally, using land for livestock emits twice as many greenhouse gases as using it for crops for human consumption.
Animal agriculture’s water footprint is also significantly larger compared to that of crops. Experts estimate that agriculture accounts for 92 percent of humanity’s water footprint. Raising animals for food is linked to nearly a third of that. A 2010 study found that beef requires 15,415 liters of water per kilogram. Meanwhile, pulses like beans, lentils, and peas require 4,055 liters of water per kilogram.
Michalke believes that factoring the environmental impact into the cost of meat and dairy could help mitigate the climate crisis.
“A food that becomes significantly more expensive will also be much less in demand,” she said.