Avoiding meat has never been more mainstream. The numbers of vegans and vegetarians are on the rise in the United States, making up 2% and 5% of the country’s population, respectively.
Additionally, even more Americans nowadays are willing to at least cut back on their meat intake or try meat substitutes like seitan. A poll from Gallup found that close to one in four Americans tend to eat less meat now than in the past, and the size of the U.S. meat substitute market has reached one and a half billion dollars.
So, what gives? Why are so many people beginning to seriously reconsider their salad-to-steak ratio? No single reason can fully answer that question, but it appears multiple factors are at play. There are, of course, health concerns linked to consuming too much meat. Eating ribeye every night for dinner probably isn’t the best plan for your cardiovascular health.
From environmental to health concerns
The meat industry is linked to a litany of concerning environmental problems like deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. It takes an incredible amount of both land and crops to support a meat plant. For instance, large portions of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed to support Europe and America’s demand for affordable meat.
The overuse of antibiotics is another major concern. For decades, livestock has routinely been given tons of antibiotics for any number of reasons (avoid disease, reach a larger size, etc.) and a growing number of scientists are now raising concerns about how such practices are likely fueling antibiotic resistance in humans, thanks to the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease from livestock.
The uncomfortable truth about the meat industry is the more you look into it, the more likely you are to lose your appetite. The business side of the meat game is equally as unappetizing. A handful of companies enjoy an absolute stranglehold on the U.S. meat market.
Putting employees in harm’s way
For example, according to the 2021 Chain Reaction Report, just four meat producers account for over 80% of the U.S. beef supply. None of those companies (Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef Packing) publicly divulge the amount of antibiotics they use on their livestock, and none have halted routine antibiotic use across feedlots.
Starting to reconsider your stance on tofu? We haven’t even touched on how these companies treat their employees yet.
Bombshell findings just released by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis reports all four of those major meat producers (plus Smithfield Foods) “engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials” to block pandemic worker protections. Behind closed doors these companies unscrupulously did everything they could to ensure workers kept reporting for duty regardless of the viral risks. The report notes that in 2020 alone over 59,000 employees across those five meat companies contracted COVID-19.
“When just a handful of companies control the market, it creates a system ripe for the abuse of farmers, meat processing workers, and consumers with little accountability,” says Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst for the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Here’s a more detailed run-down of some of the worst practices among America’s largest meat producers.
And don’t miss 8 Fast-Food Chains With Questionable Ingredient Quality.
What earned Cargill such a distinct dishonor? The more appropriate answer may be what didn’t. Damaging ecosystems, allegations of profiting off of child labor, and ranking as a top 10 U.S. food industry polluter (lead, asbestos, mercury, etc.) are just a few examples of Cargill’s dark side.