According to a new study, if meat prices reflected the environmental impact of production, the days of McDonald’s dollar menu would be over. A study conducted by scientists at Augsburg University in Germany and published in Nature Communications found that if the toll of animal agriculture on the environment was calculated, meat prices would increase by a whopping 146 percent and dairy products by 91 percent. Once environmental costs like carbon, nitrous, and methane emissions are accounted for, suddenly, instead of costing you two dollars, a McDonald’s hamburger would run you back 292 dollars.

The High Environmental Cost of Meat

Conversely, the study also looked at organic plants and produce and found that if the same environmental fees were applied to organic food, prices would only rise by 6 percent. One of the authors of the study, Amelie Michalke, explains this discrepancy, saying, “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. Food that becomes significantly more expensive will also be much less in demand.”

These findings come after the release of a global study conducted by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food in 2016, which suggested that to offset the environmental toll of agricultural animal production, on average, meat would require a 40 percent tax increase and dairy a 20 tax. Although several EU countries have considered implementing these taxes, no government has implemented the tax to date.

Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Are a More Sustainable Solution

Despite countries’ reluctance to impose a tax due to COVID-19 outbreaks at meat plants and resulting shortages, meat prices soared. Companies like Beyond Meat that specialize in offering meatless options positioned themselves as a competitive alternative for vegans and non-vegans alike by reducing product prices. These companies' cost reduction strategy must have worked, with meat alternatives sales reaching $800 million last year. The imitation meat market’s growth shows the importance of providing consumers with more sustainable options that they and the environment can afford.

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