Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat lover, you probably know what the Meat industry is all about. You might have heard about the horrific animal abuses that occurred, or you might know that the Coronavirus pandemic affected the meat industry.
During the past 50 years, the meat industry has undergone a number of changes. This includes the emergence of large scale ranching, the development of refrigerated transportation, refrigeration technologies, and the rise of supermarkets.
The history of the meat industry goes back to the colonial era when European settlers arrived in the new world. These early settlers brought livestock from Europe to the new world. They found an abundance of animal wealth. However, they often came into conflict with native Americans.
The meat industry grew rapidly. Railroads provided a means to transport stock to larger cities. A major change was the invention of the refrigerated railroad car. The first refrigerated rail car was placed in service in the 1870s.
By the early 1900s, packing plants had been established in every major city. Large meat packing plants became a common sight in the United States.
These plants were equipped with sharp machinery and overworked employees. They failed to provide adequate safety measures. Consequently, the public was exposed to poor working conditions.
The meat packing industry also grew with methods of refrigeration to preserve meat. The establishment of refrigeration technologies allowed for the production of lean finely textured beef (LFTB). This product was produced in more advanced factories.
The meat industry re-emerged in the 1950s after the Great Depression. The industry benefited from increased demand for food in America. Consumers responded by eating more meat. The industry was ripe for consolidation. The top four meat companies controlled 22 to 31 percent of each market.
The third stage of the meat industry included the emergence of supermarkets. The industry re-concentrated on national markets. It also included the aging of plants.
The third stage of the meat industry ended in 1975. By that time, the top four beef packers were responsible for 84 percent of all slaughter. This made the industry highly consolidated.
Today, the meat industry is still a highly concentrated industry. The top 15 pork plants produce 60 percent of the nation’s pork supply. The industry employs a majority of immigrants.
There are a number of winners of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. These include former presidents of the American Meat Institute, Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s Corp., and Col. Harland Sanders.
Modern meat-packing plants are closer to the source of livestock production
Historically, the meat packing industry has been a hugely important part of the food chain. It is responsible for the processing, packaging and selling of the meat produced by livestock. The modern meat-packing plants are often highly specialized and based in the areas where livestock are raised.
Although meat packing has been around for hundreds of years, the use of refrigerated truck transportation to transport perishable meat is relatively new. This technology was used to ship the large quantities of veal and beef carcasses shipped to the processing plants.
The modern meat-packing industry has been transformed in recent years. Today, the majority of livestock are sold directly to the packing plants. Some of the newer, more specialized plants produce only dressed carcasses from one type of animal.
The meat packing industry was fueled by the advent of railroads, which made it possible to transport live stock from the farm to the processing plant. Small packing plants were also established in cities as they grew. In the early 1900s, a meat-packing plant was located in each of the major cities of the United States.
It was not uncommon for cattle drives to move herds of thousands of head from the Great Plains to the railheads of Kansas City. They were then shipped to large terminal livestock markets.
The meat-packing industry has been the subject of much public attention. It was the topic of an excellent novel by Upton Sinclair, who exposed the plant’s shortcomings in terms of safety measures and workplace conditions. The industry fought against unionization, but the Meat Inspection Act passed in 1906 required more regulation.
The livestock sector is a vital component of our global food system, supporting the livelihoods of billions of people. However, it can also have negative effects on our health and social equity.
The meat-packing industry’s most obvious contribution is the packaging of meat for human consumption. In the past, most animals were slaughtered at the abattoir and then shipped directly to the packing plant. Nowadays, most animals are sold directly to the packing plant, and most modern plants are located near their production areas.
Coronavirus pandemic affected the meat industry
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meat industry experienced a number of disruptions that caused the industry to take a serious hit. Despite these challenges, the industry has been able to show resilience. Processors have demonstrated flexibility in managing workforce disruptions and have maintained supplies to both domestic and international markets.
The early COVID-19-related shocks have been transitory. But the impact of this virus on the economy continues to be felt. In April and May of 2020, the meat markets experienced huge price movements. This resulted in less meat on the shelves and reduced buying.
As a result, the meat industry lost an estimated 3% of its national revenue. It is difficult to calculate the true impact of the virus on the food sector. However, a recent review paper from Lusk et al. analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on the meat and pork marketing margins.
The meat and poultry processing industry is a key component of the United States’ food infrastructure. It employs approximately 500,000 people. During the outbreak, many workers were unable to work.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the meat and poultry processing industry was forced to reduce its workforce. It also dealt with logistical and labour supply shocks. It implemented COVID-19 protocols and enhanced sanitary measures.
Workers in production facilities had limited insurance coverage. Moreover, the high levels of air circulation in meatpacking plants increased the risk of spread of the virus. These factors led to a 45% reduction in meat processing.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the CDC conducted qualitative on-site risk assessments of meat and poultry facilities. It also responded to requests for technical assistance. It requested aggregate data from all states with at least one case of COVID-19.
According to the CDC, 115 meat or poultry processing facilities reported COVID-19 cases. The worker infection data ranged from a low of 0.6% to a high of 18.2%.
The lag time between the disease onset and the report of an infection to the CDC affects the reported counts. In the end, the meat and poultry processing industry was able to implement temporary mitigation strategies and maintain the facility’s functionality.
Whistleblowers expose grotesque animal abuse
Throughout history, whistleblowers have been critical to documenting gruesome animal abuse in the meat industry. Their work has revealed the unsafe working conditions and food safety issues inside slaughterhouses and factory farms. This information has led to animal welfare and corporate policy changes and congressional hearings.
However, powerful corporations have been able to influence state laws to prevent whistleblowers from reporting abuse. This has resulted in anti-whistleblower legislation, or “ag-gag” laws. These laws make it a crime to document the inhumane treatment of animals. This includes taking photos and videos of animal cruelty.
This legislation has been introduced by various states including North Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona. These laws have been challenged in court. A federal judge has ruled that the law is unconstitutional. A federal appeals court has remanded the lower court’s ruling to allow for further consideration.
Many ag-gag laws have been overturned as a violation of the First Amendment. In addition, there are various groups that have spoken out against ag-gag laws. One group, Mercy for Animals, has been able to use undercover investigations to expose factory farming. In these investigations, the group uses misrepresentation and application to a company’s application in order to get access to the facilities. The group then uses these facilities to expose poor conditions.
In addition to exposing the exploitation of animals, these investigations have also led to animal recalls. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducts investigations on agribusiness practices and slaughter plants. These investigations have lead to criminal convictions.
Ag-gag laws have been used to punish undercover investigators. They can be a serious threat to farm managers. This legislation is not meant to protect the public, but to intimidate and silence whistleblowers. The legislature’s goals are to protect the agriculture industry from false pretenses and to punish undercover investigators. These laws have been enacted in dozens of states.
In addition to protecting the agriculture industry, these laws are a violation of the First Amendment. Thousands of workers have been injured or killed while working in slaughterhouses. In order to document inhumane treatment of farm animals, one must document the conditions in order to report to law enforcement. This can be difficult.