Meat and No Potatoes: Problems and Issues Facing the Meat Industry Today

meat industry

Article by Leif Greiss


Beef and other red meats, such as pork, are consumed by Americans and those around the world daily, yet there are numerous concerns that surround them from consumer health, to how the industry prepares the meat, and all the way back to how the animals are raised.


Consumer Health

According to reports by the World Health Organization and The International Agency for Research on Cancer, both red meat and processed meat contain carcinogens, or cancer causing agents.

The IARC told consumers that eating more than 1.8 ounces of processed meat a day increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. However, do keep in mind that eating red and processed meat is still not as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or standing in a cloud of asbestos.

Meat, primarily beef, consumption has been decreasing gradually over the past decade according to Dr. Penny Kris Etherton, who is a nutritionist at Penn State. Data from the FDA corroborates these statements, saying that red meat consumption has decreased gradually over the last 40 years.

According to the USDA, red meat consumption peaked in 1972 when the average American consumed 104.4 pounds of red meat per year. As of 2012, red meat consumption had decreased to about 75 pounds consumed by the average American per year.

meat industry
Goats and donkeys eat rubbish in a dumping side in El Fasher, North Darfur. Image Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran, UNAMID

Farming Methods

As far as production goes, animals are typically raised in two types of settings: factory farms and free-range.

Factory farms, as they are sometimes called, follow a more industrialized method. Dr. Alex Hristov of Penn State, who focuses on engineering feed for beef cattle that is friendlier for the environment, said animals are kept in large pens with room to move around, and fed engineered grain based feed made from corn, grain, barley or hay. However with factory farming there are numerous concerns involving greenhouse gases, waste management and humane treatment of animals.

Free-range farming, sometimes called sustainable farming, involves animals being let out to pasture so they can feed on grass and drink from streams. It is typically seen as more environmentally friendly according to Hristov.

Grazing also allows land that would otherwise would be useless to serve a purpose. However, one of the great misconceptions of grazing is that it is 100 percent better for the environment. Hristov said methane emissions from grass-fed cattle are significantly higher than in those that eat engineered grain based feeds. Though, he admits that waste disposal is not a concern, when animals are let out to pasture.

Grazing also requires significantly more land, due to the fact that animals need space to graze, and it typically takes longer to bring the animals to market.

meat industry
Valley Farm, West Wratting. Image Credit: Andrew Stawarz


According to Dr. Robert Chiles, a professor at Penn State who focuses on how agricultural ethics are interwoven with everyday life, there are very real human concerns in the U.S. and abroad. Labor is a major problem.

According to Mills, the U.S. has an issue with basic labor jobs in the meat industry, and they might not be the ones you’d expect. The guys that work in slaughterhouses killing the animals are the ones that are rarely in short supply. They get paid more because the work they do is messier.

The workers that pack and move the meat are the ones who are always in demand. Mills, who has consulted for both small scale and major meat manufacturers, said that even in 2007 and 2008, during the advent of the Great Recession, it was hard finding people that were willing to show up and do the work for any significant length of time.

However, these only touch on the problems within and surrounding the meat industry. Other concerns, ethical issues and tricky questions are abound. Which is why this will serve as an introduction to a series of articles covering multiple issues surrounding the meat industry. New articles will be coming soon and will briefly cover a specific topic.

meat industry
A Morris & Company meat packing and processing plant in Kansas City, Kansas. Image Credit: Don Harrison

Feature Image Credit: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE

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