Raising the Steaks: The High (and Rising) Costs of Meat

Beef at Dittmer's grand re-opening (Dawn Endico)

According to a recent Meat & Poultry article, the price of meat, particularly beef, will increase dramatically in the United States during 2013. These price spikes will likely affect not only what people eat at home, but also how restaurants create their menus. Mintel Group Ltd., a market research firm, predicts that restaurants will offer more dishes containing cheaper proteins.

 “This could mean more cuts like tri-tips or steaks or kabobs that use smaller pieces,” says Mintel foodservice analyst Kathy Hayden. “It could also mean the premium treatment given to burgers that we've been seeing over the years is now being shifted to chicken sandwiches, and other chicken options are soaring into the market.” 

Mintel reports that chicken breast menu choices have increased by 52 percent, and vegetarian menus options have increased by 22 percent. The rising cost of meat is partly due to lower harvests in 2012. Most meat in the U.S. comes from Concentrated or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, which largely rely on corn and soy to feed animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Production 2012 Annual Summary reveals that corn production in 2012 was 13 percent lower than in 2011, and soybean production decreased by 3 percent. Drought contributed to these smaller yields. The report notes that 2012 was the driest year in the U.S. since 1988.

Because CAFOs benefit from subsidies tax breaks, they are able to produce meat more inexpensively than smaller operations. But a 2010 Centers for Disease Control report explains that cheap meat can come at a high cost. For example, CAFOs can contribute to air and water pollution, animal and human diseases, antibiotic resistance, and decreased property values in surrounding communities. Furthermore, meat production drastically affects global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A 2012 United Nations Environment Programme report shows that agriculture produces 10 to 35 percent of total GHG emissions, and 80 percent of agriculture emissions come from meat production.

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