NYT: For every $1 we spend caring for animals, we spend $6 eating or killing them

A New York Times story this week explored the human animal connection in all its mysteries, but then came to the bottom line. We may love our cats and dogs, but we only spend $1 caring for animals for every $6 we spend eating, hunting and removing them. But if you include wildlife watching, pet and pro-animal lifestyle and efforts to eat less meat and less cruel animal products, I think it’s $3 to $1.

Natalie Anglier concluded:

We lavish some $48 billion annually on our pets and another $2 billion on animal protection and conservation causes; but that index of affection pales like so much well-cooked pork against the $300 billion we spend on meat and hunting, and the tens of billions devoted to removing or eradicating animals we consider pests.

The calculation does take into many of the spending categories of animal spending that are often overlooked. She does a great job by including animal eradication, like the taxpayer-funded USDA Wildlife Services branch. She includes the American Pet Product Association calculated the $48 billion based on vet care, food, boarding, grooming, vitamins, treats and toys. The animal causes? I think that’s from the annual Center for Philanthropy report, which puts “environmental/animal-related” organizations at $6.1 billion, not $2 billion. Granted, with many causes it’s hard to parse what is for animals and what’s for the ecosystem.

But here are some things these numbers overlook:

Wildlife watching: $46 billion. More Americans have fun watching wildlife than shooting it (71 million wildlife watchers versus 12.5 million hunters), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We spend way more money ($46 billion versus on animal watching versus $23 billion on hunting).

Animal Shelters: $2 billion. U.S. taxpayers spend  $2 billion to catch, shelter and euthanize homeless animals.

Dog bites: $.5 billion. We’re willing to overlook something like half a billion in dog bite injury cots.

Pet lifestyle: $1-10 billion. Travelling with pets, pictures of pets, other frilly things like training, kennel clubs: There’s no reliable estimate I can find on any of these, but they are substantial. 14% of Americans travel with pets.

Vegetarian Foods: $2 billion. That’s foods to specifically avoid eating meat and the number ($1.7 billion is from 2007). That doesn’t include the stuff that vegetarians are drawn to, like food bars ($4 billion) or the $26 billion soy crop.

Free-Range Eggs: $300 million. We spend about $6 billion a year eating 6 billion eggs. About 4% of those are free-range and they cost about 25% more.

Total: $107 billion. And that doesn’t come close to capturing what I’d call a pro-animal lifestyle. Regardless of whether we are vegetarians, vegans or hunters, we all do a lot to enjoy the animals we consider family or make the lives of other animals less miserable. A lot of our money and energy spent on animals is hard to quantify because it amounts to choosing one thing, say pizza or pasta, over something that hurt animals like veal, pate, cheap hamburger or tuna that was caught with dolphins. The movement to eat less meat is strong, but almost impossible to measure. Americans ate 92 pounds of beef in 1972, but 66 pounds in 2007 (we make up for it in chickens). Overall the USDA expects Americans to trim their meat consumption to 206 pounds in 2012 from the all-time high of 221 pounds in 2004-7.

Together I’d say that puts us as spending $1 helping animals for roughly every $3 we spend eating and killing them. It’s not great, but we’re getting better.

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