The term meat industry describes modern industrialized livestock agriculture for production, packing, preservation and marketing of meat (in contrast to dairy products, wool, etc.). In economics, it 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 entire meat industry is termed meat packing industry- the segment that handles the slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distribution of animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock.
The livestock industry not only uses more land than any other human activity; 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.
|type||1999||!2000||2012||% change 1990-2012|
|Cattle and Buffaloes||1445||1465||1684||16.5|
|Sheep and Goats||1795||1811||2165||20.6|
Global production of meat products
Critical aspects of the effects of industrial meat production include
- hormone treatment such as steroids and the effect of consuming meat raised with these on human consumers, (see also Beef hormone controversy)
- animal diseases, e.g. mad-cow disease (BSE), avian flu, swine influenza (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N1), foot-and-mouth disease, some of which can spread to human consumers
- Cruelty to animals is a common practice in the meat industry
- certain animal rights advocates and groups believe the production of meat is unethical and the industry should be abolished
- obesity - partially due to overconsumption of meat products
- human disease associated with animal waste, e.g. through E. coli
- cost of state services associated with the above including meat inspection and health care
- overall ecological footprint of the meat industry including the raising of feed and animal waste disposal
Many observers suggest that the expense of dealing with the above are grossly undercounted in present economic metrics and that true/full cost accounting would drastically raise the price of industrial meat.
Effects on livestock workers
American slaughterhouse workers are three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker. NPR reports that pig and cattle slaughterhouse workers are nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries than average. The Guardian reports that on average there are two amputations a week involving slaughterhouse workers in the United States. On average, one employee of Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in America, is injured and amputates a finger or limb per month. 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. 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. 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.
The act of slaughtering animals, or of raising or transporting animals for slaughter, may engender psychological stress or trauma in the people involved. 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." 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." 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." 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."
Slaughterhouses in the United States commonly illegally employ and exploit underage workers and illegal immigrants. In 2010, Human Rights Watch described slaughterhouse line work in the United States as a human rights crime. 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.
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.
Native wild species like deer and bison in North America would be cheaper and potentially have less impact on the environment. 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.
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