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The Low Cost of Chickens

I've not yet read Ellen Ruppel Shell's "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture", but I have read a review of the book, and even a blog post about the review of the book, which in D.C., puts me ahead of the game to comment.

“Cheap chicken, cheap shirts, cheap sneakers — they’re all being paid for by somebody, even if it’s not the person taking them home," writes Shell. Chicken is an interesting example here: It's really cheap. I can get a whole rotisserie chicken at Harris-Teeter for the price of two bunches of carrots. But why? Well, one reason is that we're incredibly cruel to chickens. Another is that we lower labor costs by using a lot of illegal immigrants in processing factories. Another is that our agricultural policy subsidizes the grains that go into chicken feed. Another is that we don't price carbon.

But you have to know a fair amount about chicken processing to know all of that. The information consumers actually have access to is the price tag. Which is why one of government's more traditional roles is to make sure the price tag reflects inputs we're comfortable with. You're allowed to compete on low prices, but not on low prices derived from slave labor, or asbestos-coated production facilities, or theft. At various times, we've outlawed competition on those measures. And I sort of wonder how long we'll allow chicken producers to compete on low prices derived from incredible cruelty to animals, exploitation of illegal workers, and taxpayer subsidies to the corn industry. It's a pretty ugly scene, and the product eventually ends up on our plates.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 20, 2009; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Food  
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Comments

Gil Scott-Heron does not approve of the price of food goin' up.

Posted by: TheConfidenceMan | July 20, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Good analysis, except you forgot one thing: It's pretty easy to avoid chicken. There's no need for people who know the facts you pointed out to continue to eat it.

So why do they?

Posted by: KathyF | July 20, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

this is just a restatement of the Efficient Chickens Hypothesis (ECH) -- all relevant information about poultry products is captured in the price.

Posted by: bdballard | July 20, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm proud of you for admitting your goal of making consumers pay higher, "fairer" prices for everything they buy.

Now all you need to do is get all your liberal politicians admit to sharing that goal as well, and then the electorate can weigh in on it with their certain approval.

I double over with laughter at the thought of all the liberals actually admitting what they want for society!

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 20, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

This is truly amazing. You and all your liberal friends could switch to free range chicken right now if you wanted to. You could all quit your jobs at KFC and become chicken ranchers, too.

But you'd rather impose the inputs you're "comfortable with" on the rest of us. You really think you're qualified to decide what's best for everyone else, don't you?

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 20, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

you must ask yourself:

why in heaven's name should i enable an industry that treats animals with terrible cruelty?

how can you eat an animal, knowing it was tortured to arrive on your plate?

boycott these companies, instead of buying the animal corpses they are providing you with.


Posted by: jkaren | July 20, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

"boycott these companies, instead of buying the animal corpses they are providing you with."

How about YOU boycott them, and I'll pay even less because of the chicken surplus. But, NO, you've got to meddle with my food supply too. It's never good enough for you libs to just practice what you preach, is it? Always, you just have to impose on others.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 20, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

whoisjohngaltcom, you are becoming pretty meddlesome yourself. This comment section is about discussion. Quit saying what people are trying to impose on others, when they aren't trying to impose anything.

just quit this poverty mentality that thinks anyone here has the power to impose anything on you. Just settle in, and discuss. Show some respect.

Posted by: wapomadness | July 20, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

"Well, one reason is that we're incredibly cruel to chickens. Another is that we lower labor costs by using a lot of illegal immigrants in processing factories. Another is that our agricultural policy subsidizes the grains that go into chicken feed. Another is that we don't price carbon."

I don't want to be too pedantic (okay, I do), but most of those reasons don't disambiguate the chicken vs. carrot examples. Are we friendly to chickens? Do illegal immigrants not harvest them? Is carbon suddenly priced for them? The only one that might make sense is whether we subsidize corn more than carrots - we probably do, but we do subsidize carrots too, I'd bet!

Just trying to keep ya honest.

Posted by: goinupnup | July 20, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

wapomadness:
"Show some respect."

I do. I respect your ability to choose for yourself what kind of chicken you eat. And Ezra's too. He, however, appears to be advocating for some elites to decide for me what kind of chicken I can eat. I find that less than respectful of my ability to make my own decisions.

Are you going to demand that I get the respect I deserve, too?

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 20, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

"i find that less than respectful of my ability to make my own decisions."

"chickens raised for their flesh, called "broilers" by the chicken industry spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with tens of thousands of other birds.
they are bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly, that their legs and organs cant keep up, making heart attacks, organ failure and crippling leg deformities common. many become crippled under their own weight, and eventually die because they cant reach the water nozzles.
at the slaughterhouses, their legs are snapped into shackles, their throats are cut open, their beaks are cut off and they are immersed in scalding hot water to remove their feathers."

bon appetit!

Posted by: jkaren | July 20, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Sounds inexpensive and delicious!

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 21, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

But these comments miss the point -- it's not just the chicken that's underpriced because of slave labor, subsidies, abuse of animals and the enivironment, and the on-going destruction of our economy; it's very nearly everything in the supermarket.

That cheap teeshirt you buy, or your bargin box of strawberries, are only cheap because of their hidden costs. You pay now or you pay with your tax dollars and the destruction of your planet.

Too bad we're too short-sighted to see it.

Posted by: delagar | July 21, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

These practices are not infinitely sustainable & that adds to the problem. Factory farming provides cheap(er) food in the short term, but the long term costs are at issue.

Posted by: pichinose | July 21, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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