MEAT PRICES RISE, RANCHERS LOSE MONEY
If only all our steaks, tri-tip and ground beef came from ‘happy cows’ as seen above.
Grass-fed and finished beef accounts for only 1% of the beef we have in the US (1).
Due in part to confusing messaging and rising prices, where our beef is coming from for many remains a mystery.
I see it and hear it all the time; the transition from shopping at any grocery or online store positioned as one to give great prices first and foremost to shopping at your local farmer’s market can cause a bit of sticker shock at first blush.
But once we learn what’s behind the pricing and how you truly do get what you pay for, often the understanding brings awareness that is crucial during times like these.
Back in 2018 when I first started by bone broth business, I found during my own market research (literally, market research, as in speaking directly with customers at my four farmer’s markets) that most people I had the opportunity to connect with already had some degree of understating that the price on our broths are what they are due to the price of our ingredients.
Everything is 100% organic, all our beef bones are grass-fed and finished, our lamb, pork and chicken are pasture raised.
Every once in a while I’d have the one-off conversation asking, “did’t I get my bones for free?” but for the most part, the understanding was there.
However, I also recognize that living in an area such as Los Angeles in which we have the luxury of access to a plethora of incredibly fresh, properly sourced proteins and in season produce, that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say we’re in a bit of a bubble.
Further, being in a bubble doesn’t mean we’re exempt from seeing the same trends in other parts of the country – rising meat prices at the same time that ranchers are losing money.
In the US, the cattle industry is dominated by four conglomerates and their profits are creating tension, to say the least (2).
The four companies, Cargill, JBG, Tyson and National Beef account for 80% of the processed beef sold in the US.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed in recent years by grocery chains, ranchers and others that claim the meatpackers have colluded to increase the price of beef by limiting supply.
It is thought that if things don’t change, our food chain is going to change in a very negative way; that small and medium-size feeding operators are already being pushed out of business, and that cow and calf breeders will soon be forced to do likewise.
JBS and Cargill are making as much as $1,000 in profit per head of cattle they slaughter and package into ground beef and steaks — well above the norm of $50 with occasional spikes to $150 (3).
The meat packing industry states a long time struggle to hire long lasting employees, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic yet it continues adding capacity.
In early June, the Brazilian-based JBS said it was spending more than $130 million to increase production abilities at two of its major beef processing facilities in Nebraska and $150 million to raise wages (4).
Just a few of many examples demonstrating the state of affairs at this moment in time.
There are pending bills aimed at making change, potential legal action being taken and a hugely profitable opportunity for the four conglomerates to continue to take more and more of a monopoly in their industry.
Things that are in progress, but what do we do right now?
Those of us who first and foremost put a huge importance not only on the food we are buying and feeding our families with, but also who want to not only support our local farmers and ranchers but to do something about the huge disparity about who has access to these foods?
This is not only particular to the meat industry, incidentally; about 23.5 million people live in food deserts. Nearly half of them are also low-income. Approximately 2.3 million people (2.2% of all US households) live in low-income, rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket (5) .
So to answer what we can do right now, if even on a small scale:
- If you do live in an area where there are farmer’s markets or CSA availability, start to shop with them and support them. Many have an option to make a tax deductible donation to help get real, fresh food to those in need who cannot afford it.
- Think more about portions. A family of four, two parents and two children, can have a beautifully balanced plant-based meal with a large volume of local, in season veggies, ample natural fats and small servings of grass-fed and finished steak or wild fish. Far less expensive than a model in which each family member is given an 8 oz or larger steak!
- Make sourcing of utmost importance. Local grass-fed and finished meat is going to be a better price than that which is flown in from New Zealand, no matter how much a rack of lamb is what you’re craving. And similarly, here in Los Angeles, a freshly caught piece of wild, black cod shared between the whole family is far more friendly to your wallet than a hunk of tuna flown in from Fiji.
- Buy in bulk, and freeze. You’ve heard it before, but it pays to buy up front and have your proteins on hand, in your home, in your freezer.
- Learn how you can help in your community. If you have time on your hands, consider volunteering to help create a small garden. If you don’t have time but do have the means, research what programs above and beyond those suggested above might be welcoming of any monetary contribution you can make.
- To the best of your ability, chose not to support meat, fish, chicken and produce suppliers which you do not feel comfortable or do not know what their conditions are like. We can only remain ignorant for so long and once we know, we can’t not know. On a personal note, I vividly recall when I learned about the importance of looking at where my produce was coming from (you can see, even if shopping in the grocery store – the little stickers on fruit and veggies tell you all you need to know).
- Don’t forget one important thing, and I wish I could take credit for coming up with this quote, “We can choose to pay for health now, or be forced to pay for an attempt to heal sickness later”.
We can each do our part, albeit small, but millions of small effort add up to immense ones.
An approach based on learning, implementing conscious choices and sharing what we know with others around us in our very own communities is not only something we can choose to do, it’s something we are meant to do, as a foundational part of being part of the human race.
Know your farmer.
Do your best.
Eat Food and Move.