Practicality of the United States meat industry
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 02:03
We live during a time of exponential growth on the part of the human population. Projections of the population are as high as 9 billion people on the Earth by the year 2050. While this number is alarming, and the increased population will put a strain on cities, governments and the Earth, one must ask oneself: How will we feed the 2 billion people that will be added to the population in 40 years?
Farmers are increasing their efficiency by producing more food on the same amount of acreage. The average number of people a single farmer feeds also has increased significantly. Today, the average U.S. farmer feeds 155 people. However, despite these facts, there are still hungry people in the world.
What is going to bridge the gap between the food produced and the food needed, and especially considering an increasing population, how do we meet the need now, as well as 40 years in the future?
Agriculturalists are working hard to increase productivity and efficiency, but farmers can’t do it alone. To feed the world, farmers will have to be complemented by animal agriculture — and the U.S. has one of the biggest. In 2008, according to government census data, the United States produced the most beef, veal and broiler meat, and the third most pork in the world.
The meat produced in the United States doesn’t just go to feed 312 million Americans. United States beef exports amounted to 2.8 billion pounds in 2011 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The top beef markets for U.S. beef include Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Canada, however we export to many other countries and regions as well.
The meat industry does more than feed the world. It also employs millions of Americans, and contributes millions of dollars to our economy. The U.S. meat industry employs 6.2 million people involved in meat production, supply, distribution, retail and ancillary industries, according to the American Meat Institute.
The total value of U.S. cattle and calf production was $45.2 billion in 2011 according to the USDA. The total retail equivalent value of the U.S. beef industry was $79 billion. In addition, the U.S. beef industry attributed 10.6 percent of production with their exports, which amounted to $5 billion in 2011.
While the meat industry does its part for feeding the world and employing millions of people, it is not without its issues. Since roughly 2008, the U.S. cattle supply and pounds of meat produced has been declining, including a decrease in calf crop and importation of live animals, according to the USDA. The reasons behind these declines has been contributed to the drought in the Southern Plains, the economic recession and high feed prices also contribute to lower producer returns, according to the USDA. However, the news is not all bad: The USDA projects both consumption and production to increase after feed prices fall, and our economy recovers.
When considering the world population growth, while farming is doing its part to feed a hungry world, the reality is we cannot feed the growing world population without the meat industry.
Practically speaking, the meat industry feeds not only Americans, but also millions of others around the world. Despite the many objections to the beef industry, without it we could not have sustained such growth in our population, nor could we feasibly feed the growing population if current growth trends continued.
The U.S. meat industry by itself produces an astounding amount of meat for consumption in the United States and around the world. The meat industry also employs millions of Americans, and despite recent sequester cuts which threaten to increase furloughs for meat industry employees, the USDA is optimistic about our ability to recover.
I remain optimistic, because future technological advances should only help farmers and meat producers improve efficiency, and therefore increase food production. Without the meat industry complementing farmers, I do not see any feasible way for us to feed our growing world population.
Tyle Pike is a junior in agricultural sciences. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Pike can be reached at email@example.com.