CHICAGO, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. consumers pay less for food than any others in the world, but that comes at a high price in lost jobs and health concerns, critics of "factory farms" say.
The average American spent just 9.5 percent of disposable income on food last year, a lower percentage than in any other country in the world, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show.
Meat accounted for just 1.6 percent of that spending, with the majority of this cheap protein delivered by "factory farms" that house thousands of animals in confinement in concentrated animal feeding operations, producing mass quantities of food at low cost, the Chicago Tribune reported.
But critics say the system can create disasters like last month's recall of half a billion salmonella-tainted eggs.
The consolidation of food production has led to environmental damage, the loss of millions of small independent farms, rising healthcare expenditures and billions in tax-funded subsidies to produce cheap animal feed, they say.
"Cheap is in the eyes of the accountant," researcher Daniel Imhoff says. "Somehow we've forgotten how to add the total costs of cheap meat production to our health, environment, the loss of vibrant rural communities with lots of family farms."
Citing the recent egg recall, Imhoff says the relatively rapid consolidation of U.S. meat, poultry, egg and dairy production and processing greatly increases the potential for these "problems to spread fast and wide throughout the food system."