Why is ground beef so expensive

The "real price" : Minced meat should be almost three times as expensive

Week after week, supermarkets and discounters in Germany attract special offers. According to a recent study by scientists at the University of Augsburg, meat, milk and cheese should actually cost much more than is normally required today. Minced meat would have to be almost three times as expensive, milk and Gouda would have to cost almost twice as much as the business IT specialist Tobias Gaugler and his team have calculated.

“Environmental damage is currently not included in the food price. Instead, they are a burden to the general public and future generations, ”says the scientist. On behalf of Penny, a discounter belonging to the Rewe Group, Gaugler calculated the “real costs” for a total of 16 own-brand products in the retail chain and, in addition to the “normal” production costs, also calculated the effects of greenhouse gases during production and the consequences of overfertilization as well as the energy requirement.

The effects on the price are serious - especially for meat and animal products. According to the calculations of the scientists, the price of meat from conventional rearing would have to rise by a whopping 173 percent if the hidden costs are taken into account. Specifically: 500 grams of mixed minced meat from conventional production would not cost 2.79 euros, but 7.62 euros.

Normal milk would be 122 percent more expensive, Gouda cheese 88 percent and mozzarella 52 percent. The surcharges for fruit and vegetables would be significantly lower. According to Gaugler, bananas would be 19 percent more expensive, potatoes and tomatoes by 12 percent and apples by 8 percent. In the case of organic products, the surcharges were consistently somewhat lower than for conventionally produced goods. But the price of organic meat would also increase by 126 percent if the “real costs” were taken into account.

The Rewe Group wants to address the problem of hidden costs when opening a new sustainability store of its Penny discount chain in Berlin next Wednesday. For every eight conventionally and organically produced own-brand products, the retailer wants to show the “real price” in addition to the sales price. In addition to the retail price of 79 cents, the price tag for long-life milk also includes the "real costs" of 1.75 euros and for organic minced meat in a 250-gram pack, in addition to the retail price of 2.25 euros, the " true costs ”of 5.09 euros.

Even if the customer only has to pay the normal price in the end, Rewe top manager Stefan Magel sees the initiative as an important first step towards more sustainability. “We have to come to the point of making the follow-up costs of our consumption visible,” he says. This is the only way for the customer to make a conscious purchase decision.

Magel admits: “As a company in a highly competitive market, we are undoubtedly part of the problem.” However, he hopes to be part of the solution with the current step. If the customers reacted positively to the double price labeling, then he could imagine further increasing the number of labeled products and expanding the test to other markets. There is still a lot to be done, as there are around 3,500 items in an average penny market.

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The Augsburg scientists hope that the “double price labeling” will change the purchasing behavior of customers. It could be a contribution to more honesty in food prices. But they would still prefer it if the high environmental costs were gradually added to food prices - for example by taxing CO2 emissions in agriculture and mineral nitrogen fertilizers. "The price adjustments in the food markets would probably lead to significant shifts towards more plant-based and more organic products and at the same time significantly reduce the damage to the environment," says Amelie Michalke, co-author of the study.

The calculations by the Augsburg scientists do not yet include all the hidden costs that are incurred in food production, as Gaugler emphasizes. For example, the follow-up costs of the use of antibiotics in animal breeding, which leads to multi-resistant germs, or those of the use of pesticides cannot be quantified reliably enough to be included in the current calculations. "So far, we have only considered some of the hidden costs, but that alone shows that the prices are lying - some more and some less," says the scientist.