Not all Meat is Created Equal - Part 01

Parker Hughes
Oct 15, 2020

The High Cost of Cheap Meat

Increased efficiency through industrialization is applied to animal agriculture as much as to crop production. In recent years, U.S. livestock production has been consolidated into the hands of four agribusiness giants - Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS - that process over 80 percent of “feedlot” cattle; another four companies process nearly 57 percent of the nation’s hogs. In lieu of supply chain resiliency, the U.S. meat oligopoly has led to a highly specialized system whose objective is to produce cheap goods for a large profit, as quickly as possible. 

In April of 2020, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA), which mandated that those large-scale processing plants remain open throughout the pandemic. As a result, the industrial meat and poultry sector, where hundreds of “essential” workers stand shoulder to shoulder in enclosed spaces, has collapsed into disarray. This should not come as a surprise when you consider that immigrants - with no access to health care or sick leave - make up 40% of processing plant labor. As of August 29, despite calls for authorities to openly identify plants with outbreaks, nearly 45% of meatpacking hot zones remained concealed from the public. 

As of September 18, among 419 U.S. animal processing facilities, there have been 39,000 reported positive COVID-19 cases and 185 reported worker deaths in 27 states. Arkansas leads the nation with 23 reported fatalities tied to the poultry industry. Meanwhile, small-scale regenerative ranchers and independent processors - whose reliable supply chains are built upon local economies and respect for animals, workers, and the environment - are surviving the upheaval while adapting to a surge in demand. 

To comprehend the juxtaposition of these two methods, we’ll be publishing several essays analyzing the insecure foundations of industrial animal agriculture and identifying the solutions that exist to reverse its disastrous effects. In the meantime, please consider subscribing to The Regeneration Weekly. We scour the web to harvest a fresh serving of regenerative agriculture news, insights, and resources. Delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Parker Hughes
Associate at Soilworks Natural Capital
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