Economics

All About the Meat Processing Industry

From juicy steaks and Jell-O, to fertilizers and cosmetics, meat & meat byproducts play important roles in our everyday lives.

5. Description

The global meat industry is a growing business, hitting 315 million tons of meat worldwide in 2014. This means that, on average, each person in the world consumed 43.4 kilograms (95 pounds) of meat in 2014. Meatpacking does not just involve edible meat products, such as steak or chicken breasts. Indeed, many other products come from animal byproducts, including edible fats for cooking uses, leather, animal feeds, fertilizers, gelatin and Jell-O desserts, glues, and even some of the ingredients in cosmetics. As such, the meat industry employs thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world.

4. Location

Different countries around the world consume and export various kinds of meat at different rates. For example, India recently became the world’s largest exporter of meat, even though cows are traditionally sacred in the dominant Hindu religion, and slaughtering them is illegal there. Instead, India mainly exports water buffalo meat (known as 'carabeef'). India exported 2.4 million tons of meat in 2015. The production and consumption of beef are the highest in the United States, Brazil, and the collective of European Union countries. Together, these three entities consumed 28,300 tons of beef in 2015. On the other hand, China dominates pork production and consumption. In that country alone, people consumed 57,425 tons of pork in 2015.

3. Process

The quality of meat is highly dependent on what conditions the animal experienced while alive. Stress levels, feed quality, and living situations can all play a role in how the meat comes out after slaughter. Before an animal is slaughtered it is stunned, so that it will not feel any pain. After slaughter, the animal’s throat is cut so it can bleed out. Meat packers have a different process for each animal and each product to remove hair, dirt, and skin from the carcasses. Only after this has been done can the carcasses be cut open in order to remove most of the internal organs and clean the carcass out. Before the meat can be separated into cuts for wholesale, retail, and consumption, it must be refrigerated for at least 24 hours. Most meat packing plants employ workers to cut the meat by hand rather than relying on machinery. This is because cutting meat often involves judgment calls about the quality of meat and how deep the bones are, among other considerations.

2. History

Humans have been hunting and eating meat for protein for millennia. Archaeologists have found relief work from as far back as the Roman Empire depicting a man selling meat in a small butcher shop. European explorers brought livestock to the Americas in the Sixteenth Century, where European-style butcher shops continued to spring up as more and more colonists arrived in the New World. Butchers used to preserve meat in salt or brine, but with the invention of refrigerated storage and transportation in the nineteenth century, meat could be stored longer and shipped farther more easily. The meat industry continues to grow as more people around the world can afford to consume meat on a regular basis, and as the global population and its demand grows as well.

1. Regulations

Because meat is so prone to bacterial diseases, most governments have strict sanitation regulations for their respective countries' meat packing facilities. These include frequent inspections, mandatory cleaning procedures of equipment, and disease prevention measures among still-living livestock. As the global demand for meat increases, meat producers must be extra careful to keep fast-moving equipment clean and their animals disease-free. Since the meat industry involves demanding physical labor and the use of extremely sharp tools, it can become quite dangerous for employees. Therefore, governments also must have extensive safety regulations in place to protect factory employees. Employees also often join unions in many countires, which help them to lobby for higher wages and less taxing working conditions.

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