Alexander Müller is a sociologist with a long history in local and federal environmental policy in Europe. He is currently a study leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food’s (TEEB AgriFood) groundbreaking report on a new framework for our food system.

What is the most significant unintended consequence of our current food system that policymakers, funders, and donors ignore?

The current food system produces a lot of externalities, and a lot of the costs do not show up in agriculture production, but they show up in human consumption because of the high costs for food-related diseases. Therefore, the most important thing is to look at externalities—negative, as well as positive externalities, What I have learned is that cheap food can be very expensive if we don’t apply a systems approach.

And why do you think cheap food is so expensive?

Because when you buy food at a very low price in the supermarket, it could have a high impact on the environment by polluting water, or eroding soil, and it also has a negative impact on people’s health. If you look at the price tag in the supermarket, a kilogram may only cost US$1.99, but the prices don’t tell us the truth, because of the externalities.

This also works the other way around. You can see food which has been produced in a sustainable manner, which protects the environment, which is healthy for people, and it might be a bit more expensive than junk food, but you do not see the positive externalities. Therefore, our prices don’t tell us the truth, and TEEB AgriFood is working to change that disconnect.

Read the full interview about low food prices with Alexander Müller by Iain Murray at Food Tank.