How much more expensive to raise animals humanely?

My wife and I eat non-fish animal protein infrequently, but when we do, I am often stricken by how cheap meat is - especially chicken and pork.

Animal rights concerns are not the primary reason we eat little animal protein, but I find it unfortunate that our food industry essentially tortures so many of the the animals it raises. Not to mention environmental impacts of mass production.

Is there any calculation of how much more it would cost per serving to incrementally improve the living conditions of animals raised for food? I guess we can see what the premium is for grass fed/free range animal products. But I would imagine there could be incremental steps between that and what is so common now.

I would think it also depends on the animal. Chickens, turkeys, and pigs are notorious for being raised in tightly controlled overcrowded conditions. Other than dairy cows, I’ve not heard of or seen pictures of cattle being raised overcrowded constrained living conditions. I guess one simple indicator is to look at the cost of “free range” eggs vs. regular eggs. I suppose grass-fed does indicate a greater degree of roaming space for the cattle, although it may also indicate they come from areas not conducive to growing crops.

Feedlots can be pretty disgusting. But I think a bigger problem w/ cows is just raising all that corn. And farts!

I think the pigs bothers me the most, as they are supposed to be such intelligent creatures, and they are often kept in pens that don’t even allow them to turn around. And debeaking chickens so they don’t peck each other…

On a related agricultural issue, I recall seeing it said that it would only add pennies to a pint of strawberries to have them picked by workers pain minimum wage.

Like I said, I’m not a PETA person or anything. But the way we raise pigs and chickens at least really seems unnecessarily ugly to me.

I’m not sure what a picture by itself would show. Whether the animal thinks it is overcrowded is the measure, not what I think. There should be some way to measure animal stress, though I don’t know what it is.

Some animals may be so concerned about predators that their priority for living space is a lot different from ours.

Complicating this: There can be tremendous variation in crowd tolerance among members of the same species. You won’t ever find me in a mosh pit, but, up to a point, some homo sapiens like it.

I found this article interesting:

Beginning with the end in mind (ie, the price at retail):

Raising animals on pasture is more labor-intensive, more expensive and often requires more on-the-fly creative problem solving than raising animals in confinement. In a side-by-side comparison at the grocery store, industrially-raised animal products were much cheaper because they benefitted from economies of scale, taxpayer-funded tax breaks, and the externalization of many costs (like environmental remediation, water treatment, etc.), all of which drives prices down.

The true costs (of labor, environmental stewardship, animal welfare, etc.) are reflected in retail pricing for pasture-raised meats, dairy and eggs, which can cause sticker shock. The cost differential varies, depending on the animal and is in inverse proportion to its size (the smaller the animal, the greater the cost spread). This also partly reflects the degree of industrialization in each sector: pastured beef tends to be about 33 percent more expensive than industrialized beef, while pastured chicken is at least four times as expensive as industrialized chicken (raised for meat).

We don’t know how closely the retail markup correlates to the actual incremental costs, but …

I like veal. My gf would rather not eat it (for ethical reasons) but will eat veal that is raised in a humane manner. It costs about twice what regular veal costs, and IMHO does not taste as good.

I was wondering if there could be middle ground, between close confinement and pasture rearing.

33% more for beef doesn’t sound THAT bad. 400% for chicken would be quite a bump.

Of course, since I could easily give up all animal protein, I wouldn’t really mind how high the price went.

This 15p PDF gives some visibility into your OP question (see p.12 (labeled p.170)):

Table 1
Costs of Welfare Improvements
Housing System Cost Increase over Standard Practice (by percentage)
Group housing (sows) 0
Group housing (calves) 1–2
Slow-growth (broilers) 5
Free-range (turkeys) 30
Free-range (hogs) 8–47
Furnished cages (layers) 8–28
Barn (layers) 8–24
Free-range (layers) 26–59
Sources: Theuvsen, Essmann, and Brand-Sassen (2005); Eurogroup for Animal Welfare (2005); Andreasan,
Spickler, and Jones (2005); The HSUS (2006).

ETA: the page from which that table was pulled goes a long way toward answering both your question and the question of incremental cost to an animal protein consumer.

Thx. Great info.

Boy, disgusting how cheap we can be, and how willing to impose externalities on others - human or otherwise!

I suspect, though, that "humanely-raised’ would – as an issue of price to the consumer – behave similarly to “fair trade” coffee:

Fairtrade certification aims at transferring wealth from the consumer to the farmer; however, coffee passes through many hands before reaching final consumers. Bringing together retail, wholesale, and stock market data, this study estimates how much more consumers are paying for Fairtrade-certified coffee in US supermarkets and finds estimates around $1 per lb. I then assess how this price premium is split between the different stages of the value chain: most of the premium goes to the roaster’s profit margin, while the retailer surprisingly makes smaller absolute profits on Fairtrade-certified coffee, compared to conventional coffee. The coffee farmer receives about a fifth of the price premium paid by the consumer, but it is unclear how much of this (quantity-dependent) benefit goes toward the payment of (quantity-independent) license fees.


In essence, the price increase to the end consumer would be whatever the market would bear.

I think the data I cited above (33% and 400%) gives us some idea of the practical range of the price sensitivity (ie, what the market will bear).

It depends on what you think is inhumane, but it might be a lot of marketing rather than any actual steps, like cage free eggs. As all US veal has been raised pretty humanely for some time it’s just not been able to get bad PR. Crate confinement was a minority of producers, it’s banned legally in 8 states, banned by the American Veal Association officially since 2017, and de facto by most producers around the US before that.

I think they’re raised indoors so some may have a problem with that. I don’t think there’s anything unethical specifically because of the animal’s age.

For OP: meat prices have steadily increased in the last 2 years for COVID related supply issues, so cheap is relative, but we’ve already beared a price increase.

If you mean that agricultural methods, which increase land use, causing deforestation, and thus increasing global warming, don’t have the externalities priced in – yes. Such as advocated in this thread harms the billions worldwide who can’t afford the animals allegedly raised humanely for eggs or slaughter, as well as wild animals displaced by increasing farm acres and global warming.

The best idea is to eat efficiently farmed plant based food as much as possible.

A little annoying to me is the lack of reasonably priced vegetarian dog food.

Interesting. Maybe I could eat US-reared veal again. It’s the only commonly-available meat I’ve completely excluded from my diet. Of course, I don’t like veal all that much – I think it tastes like watered-down beef – so it’s not as if I’ve been paying close attention to what’s available.

I am paying a huge surcharge to buy humanely reared chicken, and a significant surcharge to buy humanely reared eggs and beef. The chickens raised on pasture are both tougher and tastier than conventional chickens.

That’s a big kicker - sometimes the more expensive stuff actually tastes better (grass fed). But for eggs the terminology like cage-free is a mess, it’s not really strongly enforced and many terms don’t have legal weight.

Also particularly for chicken, look at meat advertised as “air chilled,” it is better if you’re going to do a roast. I guess if you’re drowning it in a stew or ground it doesn’t matter as much.

For you, maybe. For millions of Americans prices are already high enough to make it a rationed luxary.

I’ve got no problem with products’ prices reflecting their true costs. The world would be better off if people ate far less beef.

Saw an item about raising pigs in China - they were building an 11-story concrete hi-rise of pig pens. Yoiks, who wants to live down-wind?

I also recall a CBC Ideas radio program decades ago about heritage breeds. They made the point that we have overbred modern animal breeds for production above all(meat, milk, eggs) to the point where the animals are essentially morons. The fellow pointed out that heritage pigs were as smart as dogs, while the ones that produce twice the meat in almost half the time today, are so stupid, they have to be restrained in cages so the mother does not roll over and crush the piglets. Think of what we know about the effects of too much human inbreeding, and the same applies to pigs, cows, even thoroughbred horses and purebred dogs. Basically, the animals displaying the desired traits are bred together without serious concern for relatedness, and the “best producers” are essentially a monoculture with limited genetic variety.

(The other example was that the “Holstein” cows bred in Canada produce a huge amount of milk compared to original Holsteins, and are about 50% bigger.)

This does not even get into the issue of raising animals in enclosed barns so crowded, for example, that it is not safe for humans to go into such a pig barn without moon suits (since we are susceptible to the same disease, or could give our disease to them). Plus, the crowded animals are fed a lot of antibiotics to preclude ravaging epidemics. (A&W now advertises their beef burgers from grass fed cattle raised without antibiotics, meaning they can’t be too crowded. Presumably the same applies to their veggie burgers)

Let them eat cake!

What we know is – it depends.

You can adopt a mixed breed dog from the SPCA, and without realizing it bring home the product of two littermates. And you can buy a purebred dog from a show breeder where there is a long pedigree, that can be checked on the web, showing no repeats until you go back many generations (in the case of our Shetland Sheepdog Finchley, seven, which is more or less average by human standards, and better than average by wild animal standards).

Giving antibiotics for growth promotion, or as a preventive, is wrong. This is also a problem with American human dentistry, where preventive antibiotics are often prescribed as a defensive medicine move, even though many articles, in the dental literature, advise against:

Regular toothbrushing and flossing pose a greater risk, in relation to both infective endocarditis and prosthetic joint infection, than episodic dental treatment.

Let them eat lentils.

Seriously, I’m in favor of enough of a social safety net that all people can depend on getting enough to eat. Enough calories, enough protein, enough vitamins… But that doesn’t mean we need to subsidize food in ways that hide the relative costs.