Meat industry

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The meat industry are the people and companies engaged in modern industrialized livestock agriculture for the production, packing, preservation and marketing of meat (in contrast to dairy products, wool, etc.). In economics, the meat industry is a fusion of primary (agriculture) and secondary (industry) activity and hard to characterize strictly in terms of either one alone. The greater part of the meat industry is the meat packing industry – the segment that handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of animals such as poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock.


The meat industry in 2013 SPAR bicskei husuzem.jpg
The meat industry in 2013

A great portion of the ever-growing [1] meat branch in the food industry involves intensive animal farming in which livestock are kept almost entirely indoors [2] or in restricted outdoor settings like pens. Many aspects of the raising of animals for meat have become industrialized, even many practices more associated with smaller family farms, e.g. gourmet foods such as foie gras. [3] [4] The production of livestock is a heavily vertically integrated industry where the majority of supply chain stages are integrated and owned by one company.

Efficiency considerations

The livestock industry not only uses more land than any other human activity, but it's also one of the largest contributors to water pollution and a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. In this respect, a relevant factor is the produced species' feed conversion efficiency. Additionally taking into account other factors like use of energy, pesticides, land, and nonrenewable resources, beef, lamb, goat, and bison as resources of red meat show the worst efficiency; poultry and eggs come out best. [5]

Meat sources

Estimated world livestock numbers (million head) [6]
type1999 20002012% change 1990–2012
Cattle and Buffaloes14451465168416.5
Sheep and Goats17951811216520.6

Global production of meat products

The top ten of the international meat industry Meat industrie.jpg
The top ten of the international meat industry


Among the largest meat producers worldwide are:

World beef production

World 66.25 million tonnes (2017) [7] [8] [ unreliable source? ]
Countrymillion tonnes (2017)% Of World
United States11.91
South Africa1.01


Critical aspects of the effects of industrial meat production include

Many observers[ who? ] suggest that the expense of dealing with the above is grossly underestimated at present economic metrics and that true/full cost accounting would drastically raise the price [14] of industrial meat. [15] [16] [17] [18]

Effects on livestock workers

American slaughterhouse workers are three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker. [19] NPR reports that pig and cattle slaughterhouse workers are nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries than average. [20] The Guardian reports that, on average, there are two amputations a week involving slaughterhouse workers in the United States. [21] On average, one employee of Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in America, is injured and amputates a finger or limb per month. [22] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that over a period of six years, in the UK 78 slaughter workers lost fingers, parts of fingers or limbs, more than 800 workers had serious injuries, and at least 4,500 had to take more than three days off after accidents. [23] In a 2018 study in the Italian Journal of Food Safety, slaughterhouse workers are instructed to wear ear protectors to protect their hearing from the constant screams of animals being killed. [24] A 2004 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that "excess risks were observed for mortality from all causes, all cancers, and lung cancer" in workers employed in the New Zealand meat processing industry. [25]

The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time—that let's [sic] you kill things but doesn't let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that's walking around in the blood pit with you and think, 'God, that really isn't a bad looking animal.' You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them - beat them to death with a pipe. I can't care.

Gail A. Eisnitz, [26]

The act of slaughtering animals, or of raising or transporting animals for slaughter, may engender psychological stress or trauma in the people involved. [27] [28] [20] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] A 2016 study in Organization indicates, "Regression analyses of data from 10,605 Danish workers across 44 occupations suggest that slaughterhouse workers consistently experience lower physical and psychological well-being along with increased incidences of negative coping behavior." [37] A 2009 study by criminologist Amy Fitzgerald indicates, "slaughterhouse employment increases total arrest rates, arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses in comparison with other industries." [37] As authors from the PTSD Journal explain, "These employees are hired to kill animals, such as pigs and cows, that are largely gentle creatures. Carrying out this action requires workers to disconnect from what they are doing and from the creature standing before them. This emotional dissonance can lead to consequences such as domestic violence, social withdrawal, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and PTSD." [38]

Slaughterhouses in the United States commonly illegally employ and exploit underage workers and illegal immigrants. [39] [40] In 2010, Human Rights Watch described slaughterhouse line work in the United States as a human rights crime. [41] In a report by Oxfam America, slaughterhouse workers were observed not being allowed breaks, were often required to wear diapers, and were paid below minimum wage. [42]

Possible alternatives

Cultured meat (aka "clean meat") potentially offers some advantages in terms of efficiency of resource use and animal welfare. It is, however, still at an early stage of development and its advantages are still contested.

Increasing health care costs for an aging baby boom population suffering from obesity and other food-related diseases, concerns about obesity in children have spurred new ideas about healthy nutrition with less emphasis on meat. [43] [44] [45] [46] [47]

Native wild species like deer and bison in North America would be cheaper [48] and potentially have less impact on the environment. [49] [50] The combination of more wild game meat options and higher costs for natural capital affected by the meat industry could be a building block towards a more sustainable livestock agriculture.

Alternative meat industry

A growing trend towards vegetarian or vegan diets and the Slow Food movement are indicators of a changing consumer conscience in western countries. Producers on the other hand have reacted to consumer concerns by slowly shifting towards ecological or organic farming. The Alternative meat industry is projected to be worth 140 billion in the next 10 years. [51]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Meat is animal flesh that is eaten as food. Humans have hunted, farmed, and scavenged animals for meat since prehistoric times. The establishment of settlements in the Neolithic Revolution allowed the domestication of animals such as chickens, sheep, rabbits, pigs, and cattle. This eventually led to their use in meat production on an industrial scale in slaughterhouses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beef</span> Meat from cattle

Beef is the culinary name for meat from cattle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slaughterhouse</span> Facility where animals are slaughtered for meat

A slaughterhouse, also called an abattoir, is a facility where animals are slaughtered to provide food. Slaughterhouses supply meat, which then becomes the responsibility of a packaging facility.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal husbandry</span> Management, selective breeding, and care of farm animals by humans

Animal husbandry is the branch of agriculture concerned with animals that are raised for meat, fibre, milk, or other products. It includes day-to-day care, selective breeding, and the raising of livestock. Husbandry has a long history, starting with the Neolithic Revolution when animals were first domesticated, from around 13,000 BC onwards, predating farming of the first crops. By the time of early civilisations such as ancient Egypt, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs were being raised on farms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Meat-packing industry</span> Industrial production of food and by-products from animals

The meat-packing industry handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of meat from animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock. Poultry is generally not included. This greater part of the entire meat industry is primarily focused on producing meat for human consumption, but it also yields a variety of by-products including hides, dried blood, protein meals such as meat & bone meal, and, through the process of rendering, fats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethics of eating meat</span> Food ethics topic

Conversations regarding the ethics of eating meat are focused on whether or not it is moral to eat non-human animals. Ultimately, this is a debate that has been ongoing for millennia, and it remains one of the most prominent topics in food ethics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Environmental vegetarianism</span> Type of practice of vegetarianism

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to create a sustainable diet that avoids the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2019 special report and as part of the 2017 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Humane Slaughter Act</span> United States federal law

The Humane Slaughter Act, or the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, is a United States federal law designed to decrease suffering of livestock during slaughter. It was approved on August 27, 1958. The most notable of these requirements is the need to have an animal completely sedated and insensible to pain. This is to minimize the suffering to the point where the animal feels nothing at all, instead blacking out and never waking. This differs from animal to animal as size increases and decreases. Larger animals such as bovines require a stronger method than chickens, for example. Bovines require electronarcosis or something equally potent, though electronarcosis remains a standard. The bovine would have a device placed on their head that, once activated, sends an electric charge that efficiently and safely stuns them. Chickens, on the other hand, require much less current to be efficiently sedated and are given a run under electrically charged water. To ensure that these guidelines are met, The Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors at slaughtering plants are responsible for overseeing compliance, and have the authority to stop slaughter lines and order plant employees to take corrective actions. Although more than 168 million chickens and around 9 billion broiler chickens are killed for food in the United States yearly, the Humane Slaughter Act specifically mentions only cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep and swine.

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In animal husbandry, feed conversion ratio (FCR) or feed conversion rate is a ratio or rate measuring of the efficiency with which the bodies of livestock convert animal feed into the desired output. For dairy cows, for example, the output is milk, whereas in animals raised for meat the output is the flesh, that is, the body mass gained by the animal, represented either in the final mass of the animal or the mass of the dressed output. FCR is the mass of the input divided by the output. In some sectors, feed efficiency, which is the output divided by the input, is used. These concepts are also closely related to efficiency of conversion of ingested foods (ECI).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal slaughter</span> Killing of animals for human food

Animal slaughter is the killing of animals, usually referring to killing domestic livestock. It is estimated that each year 80 billion land animals are slaughtered for food. Most animals are slaughtered for food; however, they may also be slaughtered for other reasons such as for harvesting of pelts, being diseased and unsuitable for consumption, or being surplus for maintaining a breeding stock. Slaughter typically involves some initial cutting, opening the major body cavities to remove the entrails and offal but usually leaving the carcass in one piece. Such dressing can be done by hunters in the field or in a slaughterhouse. Later, the carcass is usually butchered into smaller cuts.

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Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, also known by its opponents as factory farming and macro-farms, is a type of intensive agriculture, specifically an approach to animal husbandry designed to maximize production, while minimizing costs. To achieve this, agribusinesses keep livestock such as cattle, poultry, and fish at high stocking densities, at large scale, and using modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. There are issues regarding whether intensive animal farming is sustainable in the social long-run given its costs in resources. Analysts also raise issues about its ethics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animals Now</span> Animal-rights activist organization based in Tel Aviv, Israel

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poultry farming in the United States</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Livestock</span> Animals kept for production of meat, eggs, milk, wool, etc.

Livestock are the domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to provide labor and produce diversified products for consumption such as meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool. The term is sometimes used to refer solely to animals who are raised for consumption, and sometimes used to refer solely to farmed ruminants, such as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. Horses are considered livestock in the United States. The USDA classifies pork, veal, beef, and lamb (mutton) as livestock, and all livestock as red meat. Poultry and fish are not included in the category. The latter is likely due to the fact that fish products are not governed by the USDA, but by the FDA.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal–industrial complex</span> The systematic, industrialized and institutionalized exploitation of animals

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Further reading