Will Sequester Cause Spike in Meat Prices?

empty pockets

As the March 1 sequester deadline whooshes past, animal industry analysts (and meat eaters on a budget) knit their eyebrows in concern. Our latest national brinksmanship debacle could accelerate downward consumption trends, in an already-declining meat market.

According to Zack’s Equity Research,

Up to one-third of the workers appointed by the U.S. Agriculture Department could be laid off as a cost-cutting measure by the U.S. government.

If that happens, it will lead to a two-week shutdown of plants owned by meat processing giants like Tyson Foods Inc. (TSNAnalyst Report) and Sanderson Farms Inc. (SAFMSnapshot Report). By law, meat processors cannot sell beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the USDA inspection seal.

And from Marketplace:

Meat inspections aren’t optional. So fewer meat inspectors means less meat and poultry and eggs, and maybe fewer jobs. The USDA estimates, all told, the sequestration could cost the industry $10 billion.

The U.S. meat industry is already dealing with a bit of a slump. Plant-based eating (veganvegan before 6, mostly-vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, Mediterranean, and variations on that theme) has captured public attention; and widespread high-profile celebrity enthusiasm has helped usher it to a new level of mainstream acceptance.

Long story made short: US meat consumption peaked in 2007, and shows no sign of bouncing back.

All our top killers in the US are diseases linked to overabundance, of both animal-based foods and sugar — with every new study linking plant foods to health and animal foods to chronic disease and early death, the meat industry gets a bit more apoplectic about the popularity of Meatless Mondays.

Meat producers have tried hard to frame consumption declines as a price-driven phenomenon, rather than a trend related to steadily rising public awareness of (and disgust with) the cruelty, environmental devastation, and optional chronic disease linked to modern animal farming and meat-based diets.

The Pork Network reported this week:

U.S. meat consumption is down, and beef consumption in particular has lost ground, according to the 2013 “Power of Meat” study. Price is a key reason for the decline as beef prices have climbed through a period of tight consumer budgets, but other factors also are involved.

Those ‘other factors’ are kicking the meat industry’s wildly unsustainable animal-abusing health-devastating antibiotic-resistant-disease-ridden butt — that’s my personal opinion.

But even if their own self-assesment is correct, and price is the main driver of recent trends away from meat-eating, we could see the sequestration trigger ever-more-rapidly-declining meat consumption.

If the economic policy failure known as the sequester wasn’t a direct result of Congressional incompetence, unwillingness to compromise, and profound inability to work together and actually functionally govern, I’d be tempted to think they designed it to coincide with No-Meat March.

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by danielmoyle.

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