034: David Simon on Meatonomics and How the Meat and Dairy Industry Impose Substantial Negative Externalities on Society
David works as general counsel for a healthcare company and serves on the board of the Animal Protection and Rescue League Fund, a non-profit dedicated to protecting animals.
David runs a website that keeps us up-to-date on matters arising from the farm animal industry as well as informing us of other animal-related causes.
David received his B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and his J.D. from the University of Southern California. He is the author of two books: New Millennium Law Dictionary, a full-length legal dictionary and Meatonomics.
He lives in Southern California with his partner, artist Tania Marie, and their rabbit, tortoise, and two cats.
Why David Wrote Meatonomics:
David’s reason to write ‘Meatonomics’ was the same reason why he turned vegan in the first place – the inhumane treatment of farm animals in factory farms.
150 years ago, many Western countries were agrarian-based economies. Farm animals lived on open pastures and were humanely treated. However, the transition to a factory-based system of farming resulted in these animals being removed from open farm lands and placed into a factory-type industrial environment which goes largely unnoticed by the general human population. These farm animals are treated inhumanely and are hidden from view. David wanted to share with us their story and to reveal some startling research and statistics that we must know.
“I think it is difficult to go vegan, but it’s only difficult in the same sense that it’s difficult to learn how to drive a car or ride a bike” – David Simon.
Simply changing my diet to a Vegan diet is one of the best things I’d ever done – David Robinson Simon
David Simon had a BMI that categorised him as being over-weight. He was suffering from high blood cholesterol levels that were always over 200 mg per decilitre, which is the heart-attack risk level. David also had acid reflux, also known as GERD.
When David turned vegan, it was due to his ethical concerns for the welfare of farm animals. However, the unintended consequences of transitioning to a vegan diet, showed remarkable health improvements. Soon after going vegan, David’s weight dropped by 15 pounds, his acid reflux had gone and never came back and his cholesterol has gone from 220 to as low as 140.
David also does some yoga each day to help alleviate the stresses of sitting at a desk all day. This is his way of preventing any foreseeable back and neck problems that otherwise would result from inactivity. Yoga is also a great way for David to focus and think about what was going on during his day.
In this interview, David mentions and discusses:
Negative externalities, cost-benefit analysis, supply, demand, equilibrium, prices, subsidies, quotas, consumption and the multiplier effect.
- why David, a lawyer, turned to economics to explain how the meat industry is a cost to society.
- about the lack of rights that exist for farm animals.
- how the farming community set the standards on how farm animals are treated.
- how the Customary Farming Extension was introduced to legally treat farm animals inhumanely.
- about the environmental costs associated with producing animal products.
- how to control or even reverse climate change by reducing meat consumption.
- how taking shorter showers is not going to alleviate the drought in California.
- what the true external cost to society is when someone consumes an animal product.
- how deferring climate change measures today will impose greater costs on society in the future.
- what David, who is a vegan, had for breakfast this morning.
- the ingredients to David’s ‘power smoothie’ – a refreshing and nutrient dense meal in a glass!
- how companies are being subsidised by government to lower the retail price of meat.
- about the heavy subsidies being paid out to the meat industry.
- how artificially-low meat and dairy prices are fuelled by out-of-whack farm subsidies.
- about Ireland’s removal of milk quotas and what it means for market prices.
- about the role of government in the promotion of milk consumption and how athletes are being used in adverts.
- about the ubiquitous, powerful but misleading meat and dairy marketing campaigns.
- about the causal connection between obesity and the consumption of milk, dairy and other animal products.
- the correlation between some cancers and meat and dairy consumption.
- why you should remove animal food products from your diet so as to remove the risk of cancer.
- why you should switch to a plant-based diet and remove meat and dairy if you or a loved-one has cancer.
- what the multiplier effect is for every $1 spent by government to promote dairy and meat consumption.
- if consumers are being duped and manipulated by government into buying meat and dairy products.
- the true cost of a Big Mac – would you pay $13 for one?
- how the economics of institutional animal food production hold sway over our spending, eating, health, prosperity, economy, environment and longevity.
- why David wrote his book ‘Meatonomics’.
- where to source your protein if you decide to go vegan.
- about Rich Roll, one of the fittest men in the US, who is vegan and lives on a plant-based diet.
- about the largest animals on our planet – cow, gorilla, rhinoceros, giraffe and hippopotamus – that are all vegan and source there protein from plants.
- how David changed his lifestyle to become vegan which reduced his risk of heart failure and lowered his BMI from over-weight to normal.
- how future litigations against the meat and dairy industry could mirror the tobacco industry where once doctors advertised the health benefits of smoking tobacco.
- about ‘Lobster Liberation’ in Ireland and how David is there to advise and help groups like these who may face criminal prosecution.
- about David’s own successful liberation of lobsters who were unethically subjected to a vending machine claw game.
David’s ‘Power Vegan Smoothie’:
David starts his day with a raw power smoothie that is packed full of protein and anti-oxidants.
- Fruit of the day
David’s ‘Portobello Vegan Burger’:
For dinner, David recommends his ‘Portobello Vegan Burger’, an alternative to the beef burger, with no saturated fat and no cholesterol.
- Bun of your choice – gluten-free or wholemeal
- Portobello mushroom
- Vegan cheese
- Vegan bacon
Negative Externalities Associated with the Meat and Dairy Industry
There are huge environmental costs associated with producing animal products. They include damage to soil, erosion, pesticide use, fertiliser use, pollution to eco-systems and diminution in real estate values. Research has shown that if properties are located near factory farms, then the value of those properties fall in value.
There are also costs associated with climate change mitigation. Various studies have shown different values for the impact animal production has on climate change, with some reporting that it is responsible for up to 51% or as low as 14%. In the US alone, David has calculated that the environmental externalised cost of animal food production are about $37 billion. Who pays these costs? The farming community? No.
These costs have been externalised and society ends up paying for the damage being caused. However, David suggests that the payment of these costs are being delayed. It’s a deferred cost that is recognised in conventional economics but it’s something that will come back to ‘bite us on the nose’. For example the climate change mitigating cost is about $9 billion in the US but it is not being done right now. Because we’re not dealing with costs today, we’re allowing climate change to proceed along a path that will end up costing us a lot more in the future.
With the boom in farming and the ever increasing supply of meat products to cater for the demand, carbon emissions have soared. The cow population has grown exponentially as new markets have opened up in developing economies. Diets, such as the paleo diet, has added to this demand. The methane gas emitted from cattle is an astonishingly large contributor to green house gases. This has led to a larger carbon footprint per animal due to the associated transportation costs required to ferry these animals by land and sea. Carbon dioxide emissions also increases with the transportation of these animals.
“If we were to reduce our consumption of animal foods by say 40% to 45%, that would have the same effect on the emissions that drive climate change as if we were to garage all of our motor vehicles and motor vessels during the entire time that that reduction in consumption is in effect” (David Simon). This action alone could have a tremendous effect to control or even reverse climate change.
Negative externalities affect every living thing on the planet – humans, fish, fauna, primates, etc. You can be vegan or a herbivore. There is no way that you can avoid these costs be imposed on you. Reports have indicated that pesticides are airborne, which can be harmful to a persons health. Our water table, our rivers and our oceans are being polluted by the slurry and manure that is being washed or dumped into these rivers. Fish are being affected with dead-zones appearing in our oceans, resulting in life being unsupported. Plant-life, insect species and exotic animals are being displaced due to the landscape of the Amazon rainforest being forever altered to cater for cattle grazing. These are all costs borne on our society due to the serious impact it has on our environment and our planet. Much of the harm being done is irreversible. However, it can be stopped and further mistakes prevented if effective measures are introduced. Human diseases, such as MRSA, originates in livestock and spreads through the distribution of animal foods and, because of the antibiotic use in livestock, people are challenged to find antibiotics that can actually resist that disease.
Everyone is affected by current farming practices. For every $1 of animal foods sold at retail, there’s another $1.70 in externalised costs that is imposed on society. For example, for every $5 Big Mac sold by McDonalds, there’s another $8 imposed on every single person. These costs, which if absorbed by the producer, would result in higher retail prices for the consumer. To overcome these potentially high market prices, governments subsidise the meat industry. In the US alone, the government heavily subsidises the meat industry to the tune of $38 billion payments each year. To put that into perspective, that is half of what the US government pays in unemployment benefits every year to all the 320 million unemployed workers. At the moment, the fruit and vegetable industry in the US is being subsidised with only about $17 million. That’s a difference of circa $37.83 billion!
Counter-arguments by those suggesting that if these subsidies were removed from the meat industry, then higher prices would occur, followed by mass lay-offs and higher levels of unemployment. This outcome would occur due to consumers reducing their demand for animal products and getting their protein from different sources or substitutes. David foresees that if this were to occur, people would naturally transition toward a plant-based diet as a source for their protein. Consequently, plant-based agriculture would be then in a position to hire more workers and the numbers of lost jobs in the meat industry would be off-set by the levels of employment in the plant-based industry.
Why Do Animal Food Producers Receive So Much in Subsidies and Why Does the Inhumane Treatment of Animals Remain Legally Unchallenged?
The main reason why the meat production industry receives these subsidies and are allowed such farm practices is due to the powerful lobby group that represents them. In the US alone, estimated suggests that the farming lobbying group spend $100 million per year lobbying state and federal law makers. Also, some studies that examine such farming practices, as well as examining the economic and health benefits of the human consumption of meat, have been carried out or sponsored by groups that have a direct interest in the reported findings and recommendations.
The externalities that were outlined above are by no means localised. This has become a widespread phenomenon in so far as becoming a globalised concern. 90% of the planets rainforests have been removed, and flattened, with much of it being replaced with grazing pastures for cattle. David revealed a startling statistic of 3 acres per minute of rainforest being destroyed with 2 of these acres being dedicated to providing grazing land for beef cattle or for growing feed crops like soy or corn to feed beef cattle.
How ironic is it that the very trees that undergo a natural process of cleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen is being overwhelmed by the amount of emissions from cattle. The ratio of trees to emissions is falling at an astonishing rate due to the destruction of these rainforests.
Ireland Removes its Milk Quota’s
Ireland have recently been given the go-ahead to remove the milk quota restrictions that were put in place by the EU. This is great news for Irish dairy farmers with 2 billion extra litres of milk being produced by the year 2020. To accommodate such a vast swell in milk production, 300,000 extra cows will join the national herd, resulting in a cow population of 1.3 million. Small farms will disappear resulting in large-scale farms. This will of course lead to economies of scale for these larger farms, an increase in employment, an increase in investments in new technologies, production processes and machinery and possibly better logistics and bargaining power.
A quota is essentially a tool for managing supply. Up until the 1990s, the US used supply management to stabilise prices for animal agriculture. Former President Ronald Reagan was a leading advocate for free market economics. He allowed agricultural markets to regulate themselves in the expectation that rational farmers would naturally find the market equilibrium by supplying the desired output which would lead to market equilibrium prices. However, it turned out that individual farmers think for themselves and produced at output levels that aggregated to exceedingly high levels of output at a national level. This resulted in lower prices.
This scenario could now be played out in Ireland whereby individual dairy farmers could increase their milk output levels, expecting and increase in income. However, incomes could fall if consumption or demand does not meet this new supply. Consequently, we may have a situation where farmers are being subsidised, just like in the US. Feed crops, such as corn, become heavily subsidised in order to reduce the costs to farmers.
The Role of Government in Influencing Consumer Meat and Dairy Buying Behaviors
Governments are harming the livelihood of people by promoting meat and dairy consumption. In the US alone, for every $1 spent by government there is a $9 or more multiplier effect on sales of meat and dairy. These programmes are quiet effective in the US. Most people are unaware of the ‘Check-Off Programmes’ that are overseen by the US Department of Agriculture. The average return on every $1 collected through these programmes is at least $8. In a typical year the US spent $557 million on these programmes, resulting in an increase in sales of $4.6 billion.
There is a concern that consumers are being manipulated at a subconscious level to increase their consumption of meat and dairy products. This is one of the themes of David’s book ‘Meatonomics’. Animal food producers are using their ability to deliver products at very low prices – prices that are artificially low – to manipulate consumers into buying more of these goods than they would otherwise. For example, a $5 Big Mac would cost $13 if the industry internalised all the costs associated with the production of beef. This would result in fewer Big Macs being sold.
Economists are interested in whether markets are demand-driven (by consumer traits in behaviour, by incomes or by tastes) or supply-driven (by producer behaviour and by pricing). The market for meat has grown so much in the last 100 years that consumer demand has increased from 100 pounds of meat per person per year to 200 pounds of meat per person per year. It could easily be mistaken that this increase in demand is a typical example of a demand-driven market and that producers are simply meeting that demand. However, due to agricultural subsidies and the ‘Check-Off Programmes’, farmers are able to keep prices artificially low. They are also engaging in behaviours that are diminishing the ability of consumers to actually make informed and independent decisions about how much meat and dairy to eat. This suggests that the market has become a supply-driven market.
“I just think it’s so bizarre that our governments are engaged in marketing to its own citizens to get them to buy products that the clinical research shows that are actually damaging our health” – David Simon.
Is there a Causal Link Between Obesity and Other Diseases and Animal Meat and Dairy Consumption?
Studies exist that show a worrying causal trend between obesity and animal food consumption. Due to over-supply and lower prices, we have increased our consumption of animal-related foods such as milk, dairy and beef. The World Health Organisation has recognised this link and it is only recently that the FDA has recommended a change in the Food Pyramid to accommodate an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods and to reduce the intake of animal-related foods in our diets. David Simon created the Meatonomics Index of 40 Numbers that Tell a Story and within this Index, I was startled to find the following statistics: the “factor by which US per-capita consumption of chicken and other meat exceeds world average is 3 and the factor by which US incidence of cancer exceeds world average is [also] 3”.
One must be careful with spurious relationships where correlation does not mean causation. However, these statistics cannot be ignored and US dependence on animal food products, and the widespread consumption and promotion of meat and dairy at a national level, corresponds to a trend in health-related problems. Clinical studies have shown that up to 1/3 of cancers, particularly in the West, can be attributable to a diet that is high in meat and dairy.
Meat and dairy is being advertised both by local government and at a national level as being a healthy choice. Such promotion continues irrespective of the health risks associated with meat and dairy consumption, particularly when people over-consume. Parallels can be drawn between the animal food industry today and the tobacco industry prior to the 1960s. Old adverts show doctors smoking Camel cigarettes and claiming the health benefits of smoking. Clinical research has shown the health risks to smoking and subsequently litigations followed where the tobacco industry has been sued. Plaintiffs have been able to recover damage awards against tobacco companies. In the US alone, over the last several decades, Big Tobacco has paid more than $400 billion to States Attorney General who have sued them over medical costs. Over the next several decades, David foresees a similar action being taken against the animal food industry for medical costs associated with eating meat and dairy products.
Think about what you’re putting into your body and don’t take for granted that certain foods are good for you just because the government is telling you that.
- Meatonomics by David Robinson Simon
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- The China Study by Colin Campbell
The China Study is the leading piece of clinical information on the differences between an animal-based diet and a plant-based diet. He has found that when you feed animal protein to an animal or a person, and if they had tumours, then those tumours will continue to grow. Conversely, if you take them off the animal food diet and put them on a plant-based diet, those tumours are likely to shrink.