The American Meat Industry Does Some Very Impressive and Terrifying Things

MeatDo you eat meat every day? Then you’re part of the problem. Cyrus Nemati explains at the Chicago Sun Times:

In the past 60 years, the United States has fallen deeply in love with meat. What was once a treat is now expected at every meal to the point where we can get it in a tube. The demand for meat has increased dramatically, and the largest meat companies have found ways to fulfill that demand cheaply. It’s not a surprise that the path to the six cent Chicken McNugget was built at the expense of not only the chickens themselves, but farmers and smaller meat plants. The quest for cheap meat has resulted in a ruthless market that has left 85 percent of supply in the hands of five companies.

This oligopoly has driven the meat industry to do some very impressive and terrifying things. We raise nine billion animals for the slaughter a year. To do that responsibly in a way that respects the animal, the consumer, and the farmer just isn’t possible. The old clip from Sesame Street is still the image many Americans think of when they imagine a farm. It has an understated beauty, a pastoral ideal that romanticizes the American farmer. But the meat industry lost respect for the farmer a long time ago.

If you’re not in the know, you might expect farming to be pretty simple, in terms of economics. You raise your animals, sell them, and get paid for them. Trading goods for money has been a commonly accepted way of doing business for several millennia, but that system has broken down for the American farmer. Instead of getting paid for goods, American farmers are placed in a tournament where the top producers earn a bonus, which comes from a penalty levied on the least productive farmers. What the meat industry is doing, says Christopher Leonard, New America fellow and author of The Meat Racket, is shifting volatility onto farmers. Tournament results are very often the difference between staying in business and bankruptcy, as farms are forced to become ever larger to meet absurd demand, taking out enormous loans to grow their business…

[continues at the Chicago Sun Times]

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