Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Corrupted taxes, hidden taxes, and the chicken boom

The US Department of Agriculture has a projected fiscal-year 2009 budget of $95 billion, out of which $1.1 billion is intended for “food safety” programs. The current US population is 305 million. That makes for an average (which really isn’t a good measure for this kind of thing, but is the handy one) of $311 of taxes, per person, going to the USDA as a whole, and a whopping $3.61 per person going towards “food safety.”

Do you feel safe?

Apparently, there are quite a few people who do not. In recent article in the Valley News (“What’s That Clucking Sound? Chicken Coops Are Popping Up All Over,” p. C1, 9/13/2008; link is to paper’s site, but the article is not available online) about explosive growth in interest in keeping some backyard chickens, William Craig writes

When I analyzed the chicken-farming urge that had me chatting up hatchery employees in Lonesome Dove, I didn’t diagnose it as an economic alarm bell. I was, I thought, thinking positive, imagining the unbeatable flavor of truly fresh eggs, the pleasure of serving my family pure, healthy food. But how “positive” is the knowledge that much of the food in our markets is distinctly, dangerously unhealthy? That awareness is a big part of the chicken boom, according to Jacques. People want “control over what’s in their food,” he says, and many are buying organic chicken feed. It “costs twice as much, but people are still doing it. … The satisfaction of knowing what’s in (the egg) is tremendous.”

So tremendous, in fact, that West Lebanon Supply has had to stop selling organically raised birds. Small suppliers can’t compete with the demands of big buyers such as the southern states’ Winn-Dixie grocery chain, which is charging as much as $6 for a dozen organic eggs.”

Woof!

I don’t buy many eggs—I’ve never much liked them—so I wasn’t sure how different that was from the cost of conventional eggs. Well, the most recent (September 15, 2008) organic poultry market report from the USDA lists large organic eggs as having a wholesale price between $2.65 and $3.00 per dozen. It also lists organic broiler chickens as wholesaling for between $2.01 and $2.14 per pound. (Data on lots of different organic “farmgate” and wholesale prices are here.)

At the same time, conventional eggs are wholesaling for a projected $1.50 to $1.56 per dozen and conventional broiler chickens for $0.78 to $0.79 per pound. (See the March 2008 report “Egg prices skyrocket”. These figures are for the first quarter of 2008, so be aware that the data sources are a little different between the organic and conventional. But it should be good for ballpark figuring.)

That makes a markup for organics—at the wholesale level—of something like 80% for eggs and 165% for the birds themselves. I’m not sure to what extent the retailers add an additional markup—I doubt they are reducing it at all. So let’s call that the minimum premium people are paying for eggs and chicken because they don’t trust that the conventional versions are good for themselves, their families, or the environment. This report from December 2006, “Organic Poultry and Eggs Capture High Price Premiums and Growing Share of Specialty Markets,” goes into it in more detail.

Similarly, the wholesale price premium for broccoli in June 2007 was over 200% and for carrots 124%.

Overall, the organic food market in the U.S. is now over $16 billion, and rising fast. If we assume that the average premium for organic food across all food types is 50%, that means we’ve paid an extra $5.33 billion for our organics, and that’s probably a conservative estimate for the average price premium. But that’s okay, better safe than sorry when it comes to pulling statistics out of your rear end.

Even if we go way conservative and say the premium people are paying is only a total of $2 billion each year, that’s double what the USDA spends on “food safety.” So treat that organic price premium like a hidden tax. If the USDA were doing its job, if it weren’t a bought-and-paid-for front for large-scale agribusiness, you wouldn’t have to worry about “conventional” food because it would be as safe and as healthy and as environmentally responsible as organics are now. You could buy the lower priced food and still feel pretty good, instead of fearful.

[Photo courtesy of protohiro]


Why Modern Wheat Is Making Us Sick

Why is modern wheat making us sick?  That’s the question posed by author Eli Rogosa in her new book Restoring Heritage Grains.Wheat is the most widely grown crop on our planet, yet industrial breeders have transformed this ancient staff of life into a commodity of yield and profit—witness the increase in gluten intolerance and ‘wheat […] Read More

Recipe: How to Make a Simple No-Knead Einkorn Bread

If, like author Eli Rogosa,  you are allergic to modern wheat, it may be time to investigate baking with einkorn.Rogosa suffered miserably from bloating, malabsorption, and indigestion for many years. No doctor could help her, but when she removed wheat from her diet, the symptoms vanished. Her vitality returned with the added bonus of pounds […] Read More

Michael Ableman’s 15-Point Urban Food Manifesto

What if farms and food production were integrated into every aspect of urban living—from special assessments to create new farms and food businesses to teaching people how to grow fruits and vegetables so farmers can focus on staple crops.That’s the crux of Michael Ableman’s Urban Food Manifesto, which has been ten years in the making […] Read More

Q&A with Michael Ableman: How Urban Farming Can Improve Society

Street Farm is the inspirational account of residents in the notorious Low Track in Vancouver, British Columbia who joined together to create an urban farm as a means of addressing the chronic problems in their neighborhood.Street Farm is a story of recovery, of land and food, of people, and of the power of farming and nourishing […] Read More

Hop Grower’s Handbook Wins Silver for Garden Writing

We’re “hopping” for joy at Chelsea Green for authors Laura Ten Eyck and Dietrich Gehring as they’ve been honored with a Silver Medal by GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators for their book The Hop Grower’s Handbook.Laura and Deitrich won the prestigious honor in the Writing category for a technical/reference book of greater than 120 […] Read More
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com