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What does a cutlet really cost? An ecological-economic comparison of the conventional and organic production and marketing of pork.

In its sustainability strategy the Federal Government has set itself the target of increasing the percentage of organic farmland in Germany to 20% by 2010. In order to achieve this target, consumer demand for organically produced food must rise considerably. Prices for organic products, which are often markedly higher, form a central obstacle.

The aim of the project was to ascertain the “true” price of an organically produced pork cutlet compared with a conventionally produced cutlet. In addition to the price paid at the shop counter, the true price of a cutlet also includes the external costs generated by environmental burdens from pig farming, such as water pollution from nutrients and pesticides, odour and greenhouse gas emissions or soil erosion. Society bears the cost of eliminating this damage, i.e. the general public pays for this damage indirectly – as tax payers or e.g. via water bills. If these costs were allocated directly to the respective products, they would be noticeably more expensive.

By contrast, organic food production attempts to avoid such damage, for example by refraining from the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and maintaining strict criteria for livestock density which is designed to avoid harmful nutrient surpluses.

This research project focused on examining the extent to which the internalisation of avoidance costs in the organic farming sector and the externalisation of environmental costs in conventional livestock production contribute towards organic food currently being markedly more expensive in retail outlets than conventionally produced food. To this end, the project conducted an ecological-economic evaluation of organic and conventional pig farming. The external costs ascertained were added to the price of a pork cutlet at the shop counter and the “true” price thus established. The project findings and the resulting publications made a graphic contribution to the debate about an environmentally oriented agricultural policy and the promotion of sustainable consumption.

IÖW Project Team