Meat industry

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

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


Among the largest meat producers worldwide are:

World beef production

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


Critical aspects of the effects of industrial meat production include

Many observers 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][37] 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."[38] In her thesis submitted to and approved by University of Colorado, Anna Dorovskikh states that slaughterhouse workers are "at risk of Perpetration-Inducted Traumatic Stress, which is a form of posttraumatic stress disorder and results from situations where the concerning subject suffering from PTSD was a causal participant in creating the traumatic situation."[29] 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."[38] 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."[39]

Slaughterhouses in the United States commonly illegally employ and exploit underage workers and illegal immigrants.[40][41] In 2010, Human Rights Watch described slaughterhouse line work in the United States as a human rights crime.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44][45][46][47][48]

Native wild species like deer and bison in North America would be cheaper[49] and potentially have less impact on the environment.[50][51] 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.[52]

See also


  1. "Global Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Rise". Worldwatch Institute. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  2. Paul Ebner. "Modern Livestock Facilities". Purdue University. Archived from the original on 22 May 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  3. "Foie Gras: Cruelty to Ducks and Geese | Ducks and Geese Used for Food | Factory Farming: Misery for Animals | The Issues". PETA. 21 June 2010. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  4. "An Animal Equality investigation". Foie Gras farms. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  5. Nina Rastogi (28 April 2009). "The Kindest Cut - Which meat harms our planet the least?". Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  6. "FAO's Animal Production and Health Division: Meat & Meat Products". Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  7. "FAOSTAT". Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  8. "World Beef Production: Ranking Of Countries". 30 December 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  9. "Steroid Hormone Implants Used for Growth in Food-Producing Animals". FAO. 2015.
  10. "Definition of veganism". The Vegan Society. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  11. "The Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – Animal Rights The Abolitionist Approach". Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  12. Dyal, Jonathan W.; Grant, Michael P.; Broadwater, Kendra; Bjork, Adam; Waltenburg, Michelle A.; Gibbins, John D.; Hale, Christa; Silver, Maggie; Fischer, Marc; Steinberg, Jonathan; Basler, Colin A.; Jacobs, Jesica R.; Kennedy, Erin D.; Tomasi, Suzanne; Trout, Douglas; Hornsby-Myers, Jennifer; Oussayef, Nadia L.; Delaney, Lisa J.; Patel, Ketki; Shetty, Varun; Kline, Kelly E.; Schroeder, Betsy; Herlihy, Rachel K.; House, Jennifer; Jervis, Rachel; Clayton, Joshua L.; Ortbahn, Dustin; Austin, Connie; Berl, Erica; Moore, Zack; Buss, Bryan F.; Stover, Derry; Westergaard, Ryan; Pray, Ian; DeBolt, Meghan; Person, Amy; Gabel, Julie; Kittle, Theresa S.; Hendren, Pamela; Rhea, Charles; Holsinger, Caroline; Dunn, John; Turabelidze, George; Ahmed, Farah S.; deFijter, Siestke; Pedati, Caitlin S.; Rattay, Karyl; Smith, Erica E.; Luna-Pinto, Carolina; Cooley, Laura A.; Saydah, Sharon; Preacely, Nykiconia D.; Maddox, Ryan A.; Lundeen, Elizabeth; Goodwin, Bradley; Karpathy, Sandor E.; Griffing, Sean; Jenkins, Mary M.; Lowry, Garry; Schwarz, Rachel D.; Yoder, Jonathan; Peacock, Georgina; Walke, Henry T.; Rose, Dale A.; Honein, Margaret A. (8 May 2020). "COVID-19 Among Workers in Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities ― 19 States, April 2020". MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 69 (18). doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6918e3. PMID 32379731. S2CID 218555116. COVID-19 cases among U.S. workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities were reported by 19 states. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, 4,913 cases and 20 deaths occurred.
  13. Xu, Xiaoming; Sharma, Prateek; Shu, Shijie; Lin, Tzu-Shun; Ciais, Philippe; Tubiello, Francesco N.; Smith, Pete; Campbell, Nelson; Jain, Atul K. (September 2021). "Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods". Nature Food. 2 (9): 724–732. doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00358-x. hdl:2164/18207. S2CID 240562878.
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  16. "Unfair fare: Why prices for meat from small local farms are too high". Archived from the original on 28 January 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  17. "Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food". TIME. 2009.
  18. "The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production". TIME. 2013.
  19. "Meatpacking". Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  20. Lowe, Peggy (11 August 2016). "Working 'The Chain,' Slaughterhouse Workers Face Lifelong Injuries". NPR.
  21. "Two amputations a week: the cost of working in a US meat plant". The Guardian. 5 July 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  22. Lewis, Cora (18 February 2018). "America's Largest Meat Producer Averages One Amputation Per Month". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  23. "Revealed: Shocking safety record of UK meat plants". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. 29 July 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  24. Francesca Iulietto, Maria; Sechi, Paola (3 July 2018). "Noise assessment in slaughterhouses by means of a smartphone app". Italian Journal of Food Safety. 7 (2): 7053. doi:10.4081/ijfs.2018.7053. PMC 6036995. PMID 30046554.
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Further reading

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