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The True Cost of Food – IELTS Reading Test Sample

Updated on 27 June, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

The IELTS exam can be tricky to crack if you don't prepare for it well in advance. Make sure to undertake as many practice tests as possible to sharpen your reading skills and widen your abilities. Take the following sample test under the topic 'The Cost of Food' and carefully go through the answers and explanations!

Going beyond money to explore the hidden cost of food consumption in the 21st century

While food costs have increased over the past four decades, they have reached an all-time high in 2022. Will they rise further still? Perhaps. While that is alarming, the market value at which food items retail is just the tip of the iceberg. Food is available even at cheaper costs, but the question is – can it be consumed or is it safe to do so? As consumer consciousness rises, people opt for more organic and local produce, but many cannot afford them at exorbitant rates. This has to be the case. After all, intensive farming has gone through such stages that present-day food is altered to a large extent – right from simple mechanization up to genetic engineering. Since lands for organic agriculture that uses no chemical fertilizers are scarce, such food items are costly. 

Still, one can only ascertain the actual cost of food in terms of money. It hides in the form of collateral damage endured due to damaging food production methods. Not only is the nutritional value in today's food highly lacking, but so is the taste. In fact, the BJN paper presented a study wherein it was found that organic food has higher levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants also affect the organoleptic properties of food, which include the aroma, taste, and feel of the mouth. Not just that but recent food production techniques are a heavy burden on the environment, financial and otherwise. Take the country of Britain as an example, where thousands of wildlife species are disappearing rapidly, including farmland birds like lapwing and skylark. Even thousands of miles of water bodies are being wiped out. Not to mention the heavy use of chemical fertilizers has led to algae bloom and bacteria that slowly suffocate marine life. 

However, these facts are not as alarming as public complacency toward them. This may have to do with the fact that such hidden costs, called externalities in economics, are not borne directly by consumers or producers. These externalities, however, prove that the actual cost of food consumption can never be determined by its price tag. The International Monetary Fund or IMF reveals how a polluter only makes decisions driven by the thirst for profits, but the actual cost or burden falls on the shoulders of the one harmed by it - in this case, the public. So, consumers are paying for all the pollution involved though they may not realize it. 

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However, if we had to quantify the cost of food and its production, the answers would be staggeringly shameful. How? Due to high heat, industry chemicals, coloring agents, external extracts, preservatives, and more, modern-day food barely resembles food eaten five decades ago. These costs show themselves in the form of poor health or chronic diseases, as found in a study by Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex. Then there is the problem of water pollution due to chemical fertilizers. This raises the cost of purifying domestic water. In fact, the current water purifier market is expected to generate $30.2 billion in 2022. Could this also be an excuse to create profits? Seems so. 

Then there is the soil that suffers degradation due to years of consistent fertilizer usage. The soil is stripped of its natural nutrients, and each yield crop becomes poorer than the previous yield. Plus, though malnutrition and food scarcity affect third-world countries, the more affluent nations suffer from another type of ongoing pandemic – obesity. Even food staples such as wheat and rice have been genetically modified to such an extent that they can lead to unnecessary weight gain. This makes it easy to develop lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes mellitus, stroke, hypertension, and certain forms of cancer. This pandemic is not only going strong but is not limited to industrialized societies. Even in developing nations, nearly 115 million people suffer from obesity-related health issues. This further proves that the so-called "junk food" is not the only problem. 

Even healthy foods are laden with exorbitant sugar and other artificial ingredients that make them bad for consumption. These foods are so expensive that most of the general public can scarcely afford them. These foods include whole wheat bread, granola bars, veggie chips, and gluten-free snacks. So, modern society is starving for nutrition from all directions. That is too high a price, much higher than the value for which food items retail. In fact, we pay once over the counter, second in the form of taxes, and third to clean the mess left behind by modern farming practices. Is there a solution to this threefold expensive conundrum? Professor Pretty has an answer. 

In the case of developing nations with chronic food scarcity, breaking free from industrial farming may seem far-fetched. But in the case of Britain, wherein food production is high, this is a good start. Going all-organic and using modern intensive farming suddenly may not seem feasible for the time being. So, Professor Pretty suggests a middle standard called the "Greener Food Standard," which would encourage farmers to focus more on sustainable farming practices while not pressurizing them to go all-organic. This would improve public health and bring good food within reach of even poorer consumers. Gradually, both farmers and consumers will be able to move towards greener eating, which, in turn, would bring down overall food costs. 

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Questions 1-4 

The reading passage has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct A-G letter in boxes 1-4 on your answer sheet. 

You may use any letter more than once. 

  1. A cost involved in purifying domestic water 
  2. The stages in the development of the farming industry 
  3. The term used to describe hidden costs 
  4. One effect of chemicals on water sources 

Questions 5-8 

Do the following statements agree with the writer's claims in Reading Passage?

In boxes 5-8 on your answer sheet, write 

YES, if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer 

NO, if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer 

NOT GIVEN, if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this 

  1. Several species of wildlife in the British countryside are declining 
  2. The taste of food has deteriorated in recent years 
  3. The financial costs of environmental damage are widely recognized 
  4. One of the costs calculated by Professor Pretty was an illness caused by food 

Questions 9-13 

Complete the summary below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer. 

Write your answers in boxes 9-13 on your answer sheet. 

Professor Pretty concludes that our ______________ (9) are higher than most people realize, because we make three different types of payment. He feels it is realistic to suggest that Britain should reduce its resilience on __________ (10). Although most farmers would be unable to adapt to ___________ (11). Professor Pretty wants the government to initiate change by establishing what he refers to as a ___________ (12). He feels this would help to change the attitudes of both ___________(13). 

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Paragraph D of the IELTS reading sample 'The True Cost of Food' mainly talks about how food production raises the cost of purifying domestic water.



Paragraph A from the IELTS reading sample ‘The True Cost of Food’ mentions intensive farming and its stages, mentioning mechanization and genetic engineering. 



Paragraph C of the IELTS reading test ‘The True Cost of Food’ states that the hidden costs of food are known as externalities in economics.



Paragraph B from the IELTS reading test 'The True Cost of Food' talks about how the heavy use of chemical fertilizers leads to bacteria and algae bloom and also suffocates marine life. 



Paragraph B, lines 7-9, talks about several wildlife species disappearing throughout Britain.



Lines 2-3 of paragraph B from the IELTS reading test ‘The True Cost of Food’ talk about present-day food lacking nutrition and taste. 



This statement is not found in the given reading essay.



In lines 4-6 of paragraph D of the IELTS reading test 'The True Cost of Food,’ the writer mentions the study conducted by Professor Jules Pretty regarding how modern food gives rise to chronic diseases. 


Food costs

The answer is given in paragraph F, line 8, wherein the author explains that our food costs are expensive three-fold conundrums. 


Modern intensive farming

You can spot the answer on line 3 of paragraph G of the IELTS reading sample, 'The True Cost of Food.'


Organic farming

The answer is given on line 6 of paragraph G of the IELTS reading sample, 'The True Cost of Food.'


Greener Food Standard

You can find the answer on line 5 of paragraph G of the IELTS reading sample, ‘The True Cost of Food.’


Consumers and farmers

The answer is mentioned on line 8 of paragraph G of the IELTS reading sample, ‘The True Cost of Food.’

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