• Many public health and environmental costs can be quantified, but there is a great deal of uncertainty about many estimates. For example, with respect to energy and emissions, most non-GHG emission amounts are significantly uncertain.
  • Production systems are highly variable, not just with respect to methods (e.g., large- versus small-scale production), but also site specificity (e.g., local soils, climate, landscape), which has implications not just for analysis but also for data collection.
  • Even people with very different perspectives together voiced their support for more information that would allow for improved decision making about many of the issues. For example, many data sources could be updated, particularly with respect to consumption.
  • Many questions about the scope of effects need to be considered, with varying opinions about whether the concept of externality is the best way to frame a full-scale accounting of the “true costs” of food. All four break-out groups struggled to understand exactly what to measure—externalities as defined by economists or all external effects regardless of whether they qualify as externalities (e.g., external effects that are internalized).
  • All groups recognized the importance of trade-offs. Indeed, workshop chair Helen Jensen began the break-out group report-back session by commenting on the April 2012 announcement that the European Union would be banning sow stalls beginning in January 2013. The predicted 5-10 percent price increase for pork as a result of the ban is a good example of the type of trade-off that needs to be considered when evaluating the effects of different regulations or practices (European Commission, 2012).
  • Jensen observed that everyone began to get a better sense of the food system and began to see problems somewhat differently during the small group discussions.
  • The groups were largely brain-storming exercises. There were several calls for a more systematic approach to identifying effects and methodologies for measuring those effects. For example, one participant suggested that a systematic survey of the literature would yield more comprehensive lists of effects, trade-offs, methodologies, and limitations of those methodologies.


Donham, K. J., S. Wing, D. Osterberg, J. L. Flora, C. Hodne, K. M. Thu, and P. S. Thorne. 2007. Community health and socioeconomic issues surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations. Environmental Health Perspectives 115(2):317-320.

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