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True Cost Accounting in Food Production: Paving the Path to Sustainable Agriculture

The global food production system has undeniably revolutionized the way we produce and consume food. However, it comes with hidden costs that are often overlooked in the traditional industrial model. True cost accounting in food production aims to shed light on the externalities associated with this system, such as oceanic dead zones caused by nitrogen fertilizer runoff and health issues arising from pesticide residues. This blog post explores how the current industrial food system fails to account for these costs, how subsidies perpetuate the status quo, and why a fairer system should prioritize support for regenerative farmers.

Factory farm

The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food Production

The industrial food system has been successful in increasing food production to meet the demands of a growing population. However, it relies heavily on nitrogen-based fertilizers, which eventually end up in water bodies, leading to the creation of dead zones in the oceans. These dead zones deprive marine life of oxygen, causing irreversible damage to ecosystems.

ocean dead zone

Additionally, the rampant use of synthetic pesticides in conventional farming practices results in residues on crops, which, when consumed, can have adverse effects on human health. Chronic exposure to these chemicals has been linked to various health issues, including hormone disruption, neurotoxicity, and even cancer.

The Cost Externalization Dilemma

Despite the evident ecological and health costs associated with the industrial food system, these externalities are often disregarded and not factored into the price of the final products. This leads to an unfair advantage for conventional farmers, who can keep their prices artificially low while passing on the environmental and health burden to society. Subsidies and the Imbalance in the Agricultural Landscape

The industrial chemical food model is propped up by government subsidies, further exacerbating the problem. These subsidies primarily benefit large-scale industrial farms, making it challenging for organic and sustainable farmers to compete on a level playing field. Regenerative farmers, who practice agriculture that emphasizes soil health and biodiversity, often face financial hurdles due to a lack of support.

Advocating for a Fairer System

To create a truly sustainable future for agriculture, we must shift towards a true cost pricing model that accounts for externalities and rewards ecological services. Rather than subsidizing the environmentally detrimental industrial practices, subsidies should be redirected to support regenerative farmers who play a crucial role in nurturing ecosystems and improving soil health.

free range chicken

The Role of Carbon Credits in Leveling the Playing Field

Carbon credits for regenerative farming, as demonstrated by Farmer Angus (Angus Macintosh) at Spier Wine Estate, offer a promising step towards leveling the playing field. By sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil, these farmers contribute to combating climate change while ensuring better soil quality. However, this is just one small step, and much more extensive support is required to transition the entire agricultural sector to a sustainable model.

Farmer Angus carbon credit


True cost accounting in food production is an essential approach that demands accountability for the hidden costs associated with the industrial food system. The lack of consideration for externalities like nitrogen fertilizer runoff and pesticide residues has significant consequences for the environment and human health. By shifting subsidies to support regenerative farmers and rewarding ecological services, we can promote a fairer and more sustainable agricultural system. Embracing practices that protect the planet's ecosystems and promote healthy food production is not just an option but a necessity for securing a resilient and thriving future for generations to come. Let us advocate for change and work together towards a greener, healthier, and more sustainable world.


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