Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A shopper in a grocery store.

A customer shops for bread in a grocery store. A report released Friday by the Rockefeller Foundation detailed how the true cost of food, when factoring in costs related to the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and other factors, is much higher than most Americans realize. (Photo: Anthony Albright/Flickr/cc)

Including Environmental and Health Costs, True Price of Food Is 3 Times What Americans Pay, Report Finds

The report reveals "an immense opportunity to invest in the food system so that it brings future returns while serving both people and the planet," said the Rockefeller Foundation.

Julia Conley

Americans' grocery bills reflect only a third of a true cost of food, according to a new report, which evaluated factors including healthcare costs, spending associated with biodiversity loss, and the direct environmental impacts of farming and ranching to determine that the U.S. spends at least $3.2 trillion on food each year.

"If we don't change our food system, future generations will pay those high costs, too."
—Rockefeller Foundation

Officially the cost is believed to be $1.1 trillion, but as the Rockefeller Foundation explains in its report, True Cost of Food: Measuring What Matters to Transform the U.S. Food System, (pdf) "our food system rings up immense 'hidden costs' from its impact on human health, the environment, and social and economic inequity."
 
The organization evaluated 14 metrics including air pollution, food insecurity, antimicrobial resistance driven by the widespread use of antibiotics in farming, and greenhouse gas emissions and found that "externalized costs" amounting to at least $2.1 trillion annually are being incurred by consumers, producers, and future generations.
 
"Don't think we're getting a good deal here," the organization said in a video posted to social media. "We're actually getting squeezed. Society pays that balance not out of our pockets but through other means like rising healthcare costs, effects of climate change, and food workers who are often underpaid and undervalued."
 
"Americans pay that high cost even if consumers don't see it in the checkout line," reads the report. "And, if we don't change our food system, future generations will pay those high costs, too."
 
The report identifies human health impacts as the biggest hidden cost in the food system, amounting to $1.1 trillion per year, including $604 billion that's "attributable to healthcare costs related to diet-related diseases such hypertension, cancer, and diabetes."
 
"The additional costs are impacts from healthcare costs from workplace injuries, food insecurity and pollution, and additional costs attributable to obesity," reads the report.
 
Many health-related costs of the food system would be eliminated through a concerted effort by policymakers to expand access to healthy food for all Americans, business incentives, infrastructure investment, and other reforms, the report says. 
 
"Clinicians should be demanding a transformation of our food system," tweeted Dr. Gaurab Basu, co-director of the Center for Health Equity Education and Advocacy.
 
 
"If diet-related disease prevalence rates were reduced to be comparable to countries such as Canada," says the Rockefeller Foundation, "healthcare costs could be reduced by close to $250 billion per year."
 
The report identifies nearly $900 billion in annual costs associated with environmental impacts and the loss of biodiversity, largely attributed to greenhouse gas emissions and land use. 
 
$350 billion is spent annually on costs associated with emissions and $455 billion is spent each year due to biodiversity loss, with spending largely attributed to the impact of soil pollution and runoff.
 
Close to $100 billion in spending could be eliminated each year if the U.S. reduces carbon emissions from the agricultural sector to comply with the push to limit the heating of the planet to 1.5°C.
 
"This is the potential of true cost accounting," the report says. 
 
Devon Klatell, managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation's Food Initiative, said the report points to "an immense opportunity to invest in the food system so that it brings future returns while serving both people and the planet."
 
"Understanding the true cost of food can help us make better decisions about the systems and policies that affect what ends up on our plates," said Klatell.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

160 Patient Advocates Demand Medicare Negotiation in Build Back Better Package

"We're confident that inclusion of comprehensive drug pricing reforms in the reconciliation package will lower prices, save lives, and ensure continued development of innovative new drugs."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Cartoonish Level Corrupt': As Dems Fight for Bold Agenda, Sinema to Fundraise With Its Corporate Opponents

"Sinema is setting her political future on fire," said one Democratic organizer. "If she doesn't change course drastically and soon, it will be too late."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Momentous Win': Years of Local Opposition Defeats PennEast Pipeline

Opponents in Pennsylvania and New Jersey cheer "cancellation of this unneeded, dangerous fracked gas pipeline."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amid Calls for Closure, House Dems Urge NYC Officials to End 'Inhumane Conditions' at Rikers

A dozen prisoners have died this year alone at the notoriously violent and overcrowded jail complex.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Quite Literally What Instigated the Tunisian Revolution': Outrage After NYC Food Vendor's Stall 'Trashed'

"The abuse of street vendors will continue until there is legislative change, creating a pathway for New York City's smallest businesses to formalize."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo