The Price is Wrong

The price is wrong! Bob Barker, you know it!

The price—the dollars and cents we pay when we buy animal products—is really wrong.  Meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and all other sorts of animal foods that so many Americans buy so regularly are, in general, shockingly less expensive than market trends would predict.

The sorcery of factory farming, fueled by agribusiness subsidies, churns out astonishingly cheap meat.  In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer writes: “In the past fifty years, as factory farming spread from poultry to beef, dairy and pork producers, the average cost of a new house increased nearly 1,500%; new cars climbed more than 1,400 %; but the price of milk is up only 350%, and eggs and chicken meat haven’t even doubled.  Taking inflation in account, animal protein costs less today than at any time in history.”

So animal protein costs less today than at any time in history, but eating animal protein costs more today than at any time in history.  The price Americans pay for eating animal protein—in terms of personal health, public health, environmental and ecological health, the health and safety of factory farm workers, and our moral health—is more expensive than ever.

As to the last point—America’s moral health vis-à-vis animals—Bob Barker of The Price is Right! exquisiteness, is working his own sorcery.  He knows there is serious moral dissonance in raising, slaughtering, and consuming animals the way we do today, to satisfy our appetites.  And Bob thinks law schools can help.  Taimie Bryant, Professor of Law at UCLA, wrote an article recently on the endowed gifts Bob Barker has given to select law schools (not ours) for consistent Animal Rights courses, symposia, and scholarship.

There are two important questions I am posing: (1) How can law and policy be mobilized so that when American consumers chose to buy and eat animal protein, they are forced to confront the negative externalities and moral conflicts inherent in that choice?  (2) What is the value of permanent Animal Rights study at American law schools, and how might it be seen as complimentary to other rights-based law and environmental law education?  (And Bob, would you think of Cornell Law School?)


  1. Speaking of Bob Barker and supporting animal welfare, Cornell Law’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund is co-sponsoring (with Omega Tau Sigma, the veterinary fraternity) its semiannual fund-raiser to support the Tompkins County SPCA’s Low-cost Spay/Neuter Program this weekend. More information is available at!/event.php?eid=155829021144123.

  2. Sarah, I am thrilled that you are raising these questions! Not only should law and policy be mobilized to force Americans to confront their food choices, but just as imperative is the importance of urging Americans to think about their choices regarding animals in general. Another animal industry, also rarely considered, where the price is wrong is the pet breeding industry.

    Consider, for instance, the phrase “Free to Good Home.” Everyone loves puppies. Everyone loves kittens. Baby animals are cute. It would be so cute, people think, for their dog or cat to have babies. So they breed them. They may want to keep one kitten or one puppy. But then what to do with the rest? For many backyard breeders, as small or one-time breeders are sometimes known, the surplus puppies and kittens are advertised “free to good home.” Or only a small amount is charged, unless, by chance, they have AKC papers for all of the litter. Tragically, although people in these cases are often well-intentioned, and truly want their cute animal babies going to a good, loving home, these situations have resulted all too often in instances like the following: T

    In the case of Jeff Nally, all twenty-nine puppies he tortured and killed as a means of terrorizing and holding captive his ex-girlfriend, were puppies he obtained via, “Free to Good Home” ads or by paying nominal amounts. On a more mundane level, even if these puppies or kittens do end up in truly good homes, the creation of new dogs and cats means that there are that many fewer homes for all of those pets who are currently in shelters hoping to be adopted. As a result of overcrowding in shelters, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that between 6 and 8 million cats and dogs are euthanized in every year, simply because there is not enough space or resources to support them.

    In addition, the “purebred” pet breeding industry in America, is at the end of the day, based on economies of scale. Just like the meat industry. Enter puppy mills. It is cheaper to overproduce than make to order, and the buying of pets is perceived by American consumers as such an innocuous activity that no thought is given to the literally millions of cats and dogs who either die in shelters every year as a result, or, often just as frequently fall into the abusive or neglectful hands of some variant of Jeff Nally.

    Although I think raising awareness, and mobilizing law and policy towards this end, is a much more effective tool in combating the extensive moral schizophrenia our society faces with regard to animals, both farm and pet, another thing we do here at Cornell is fundraise for the spay and neuter program at our local SPCA. Although many people intentionally breed cats and dogs, there are many others who simply cannot afford to have their animals fixed, and are unable to prevent them from reproducing. Our local SPCA here provides low-income spay and neuter assistance to combat this problem. Under this program, it costs on average only $45 to permanently spay or neuter your pet. To help fund this program, every semester we co-host the (fittingly enough) BOB BARKER BEER PONG TOURNAMENT. The name was inspired several years ago by Bob Barker, a man who, in addition to his wonderful contributions to animal rights, has dedicated much time and money to advocating for the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs (although, as a disclaimer, he has no actual affiliation with the tournament.) Last semester, we donated $1500.

    In fact, this semester, our fundraiser is THIS WEEKEND! Law students interested in helping us to combat this issue are encouraged to keep an eye on the listserv for details, and to stop by, even if only to make a small donation.

    Just like in the animal protein industry, where price does not match with realities, in the pet industry, the price of paying hundreds of dollars for “purebred” pets, while allowing others, who are “free to good home” die in shelters or fall into abusive hands, is wrong.

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