Special offers in discount stores do not take environmental damage into account
Week after week, supermarkets and discounters in Germany lure with 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. And a whole lot more!
“Real Cost”: Study commissioned by Penny
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, it is a burden to the general public and future generations,” the scientist complains. 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.
Meat and dairy products in particular should be more expensive
The effects on the price are serious – especially for meat and animal products. According to the scientists’ calculations, 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.
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The sustainability market in Berlin shows “real prices”
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 eight conventionally and organically produced own-brand products, the retailer wants to show the “true price” as well as the sales price. The price tag for long-life milk, for example, says the retail price of 79 cents as well as the “real cost” of 1.75 euros and, for organic minced meat in a 250-gram pack, the retail price of 2.25 euros as well “true cost” 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.” But he hopes to be part of the solution with the current step. If 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, because an average penny market has around 3500 items.
Still not all hidden costs included
The Augsburg scientists hope that the “double price display” will change the shopping 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 in the direction of more plant-based and more organic products and at the same time significantly reduce environmental damage,” said Amelie Michalke, co-author of the study.
Not only the Augsburg scientists see an urgent need for action. The organic farmer and head of baby food manufacturer Hipp, Stefan Hipp, recently emphasized: “In the interests of all of us, we should urge that the true product costs are soon to be found on the price tags.” Society is currently bearing the cost of damage. And Thomas Antkowiak, board member at the Misereor relief organization, warned: “If we are honest, we have to admit that we are doing business at the expense of people and nature.”
The calculations made by the Augsburg scientists do not yet include all the hidden costs that arise in food production, as Gaugler emphasizes. For example, the follow-up costs of the use of antibiotics in animal breeding, which lead to multi-resistant germs, or those of the use of pesticides cannot yet be quantified with sufficient certainty 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,” the scientist says