Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Health Externalities of the Food Industry

A reader last night offered this comment on my post on Big Food and Big Insurance:
I read this at 8:00 am and have been thinking about it all day.
Well, there's nothing I like so much as readers who think, so let's take a closer look at the environmental problems created by the food industry. Yesterday I wrote that "chronic diseases like renal failure and diabetes are some of the largest environmental externalities ever visited upon the public."
Economic externalities are costs that don't show up in a company's financial statements. A simple example would be dumping toxins in the water supply. The company may not show a liability on its balance sheet, but some one will pay the cost: either neighbors who bear an elevated health risk or government shouldering the cleanup costs. Often the externality costs exceed the costs avoided by the polluter.
The food industry in this country boasts of its efficiency, but the low cost of the food it sells does not include the consumer health risks created by the modern food economy. Yesterday I mentioned the growing costs of chronic diseases like diabetes and renal failure.
Another health hazard is created by the use of antibiotics in animal feed to promote growth and prevent disease among animals that are raised in their own excrement, as described by this researcher at Johns Hopkins:
Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health, refers to a typical pig farm manure lagoon that he sampled. "There were 10 million E. coli per liter [of sampled waste]. Ten million. And you have a hundred million liters in some of those pits. So you can have trillions of bacteria present, of which 89 percent are resistant to drugs. That's a massive amount that in a rain event can contaminate the environment."
Does this sound worrisome to you? It should. Schwab says, "This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me."


Anonymous LiberalGeek said...

I saw this article and immediately thought of this post. I have a suggestion for how to use the E. Coli for good, not evil. :)


9:43 AM, September 22, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home