In the United States, about 95% of Americans make meat products a regular part of their diet. About 1.6% of the average household’s discretionary spending is on products that come from the meatpacking industry. In 2013, there were over 800 inspected livestock slaughter plants in the United States that create the backbone of what this industry provides to the general public each year.
The U.S. has an extensive slaughter capacity, which helps more meat products make it to the marketplace each day. Total capacity levels including almost 450,000 hogs, 110,000 steers, and 25,000 cows.
This extensive infrastructure has helped to make meat products in the United States some of the most affordable in the world today. U.S. households spend 5.6% of their disposable income on food products that are consumed at home. In comparison, Canadian households spend 9.6% of their disposable income.
Despite these high levels of processing, the meatpacking industry provides safe foods. Since 2000, there has been a 45% decrease in E. coli illnesses, a 24% decrease in Listeria, and a 7% decrease in Campylobacter.
Please note: some statistics that are listed as being current have not been updated by the industry since 2006.
Important Meatpacking Industry Statistics
#1. The meatpacking industry in the United States is the largest agricultural sector, with sales of poultry and meat exceeding $100 billion per year. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#2. About 800,000 people are employed by the meatpacking industry in the U.S., though wages in the industry are about 30% lower than they are for other production workers in manufacturing jobs. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#3. Part of the reason for depressed wages within the industry is sliding union affiliation. In 1980, 80% of workers were affiliated with a union for their job in the meatpacking industry. In 2006, fewer than 50% of workers were represented by a union. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#4. The percentage of workers in the meatpacking industry who are Hispanic has risen from 10% in 1980 to over 30% today. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#5. Illness and injury rates for workers in the meatpacking industry are 2.5 times higher than the national average. Serious injuries occur at a rate that is 3 times higher than average. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#6. The meatpacking industry is also responsible for about 2 million jobs in industries where transportation, retail sales, foodservice sales, and equipment production contribute to the overall process. (The Market Works)
#7. Employees in the meatpacking industry will handle almost 33 million head of cattle each year. Another 113 million hogs are processed by the industry as well. (The Market Works)
#8. About 8.6 billion chickens and 250 million turkeys are also managed by the meatpacking industry in the United States each year. (The Market Works)
#9. In total, the annual sales of meatpacking and processing, when poultry is also included, reaches $185 billion annually. (The Market Works)
#10. The average meatpacker in the United States obtains 64% of their cattle within 75 miles of their facility. When that range is extended to 270 miles, 95% of their cattle is found within that region. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#11. 83% of cattle that are managed by the meatpacking industry are priced by either carcass-weight or liveweight methods. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#12. Almost 50% of the cattle obtained by the largest packing plants in the country come from large feedlots. For small plants, less than 25% of their cattle comes from a similar location. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#13. The 7 largest hog producers, each of which produces more than 500,000 hogs per year, marketed 90% of their products through long-term marketing contracts. In comparison, only 8 of the 19 largest meatpacking organizations purchased 10% or more of their hogs through a long-term marketing contract. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#14. About 286 million pounds of lamb, mutton, and veal are processed through the meatpacking industry each year. (NBC News)
#15. Although meat consumption is slowly dropping in the United States, Americans still consume more meat than almost every other country in the world. The average U.S. citizen eats 270 pounds of meat per year, a total that is only eclipsed by the residents of Luxembourg. (NBC News)
#16. Total beef consumption in the United States is more than 24 billion pounds per year. (NBC News)
#17. The average person will consume over 70 pounds of red meat products each year, compared to about 54 pounds of poultry products. (NBC News)
#18. In 2014, the meatpacking industry helped to ship $1.2 million metric tons of beef from the United States to foreign markets. The total value of these exports was $7.1 billion. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
#19. Mexico is the top destination for meat products exported from the United States. When variety meat is included in the figures, over 242,000 metric tons of beef was exported. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
#20. Japan is another top importer of U.S. beef products. In 2014, they imported over 241,000 metric tons of beef, including variety meat. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
#21. China, Canada, the Middle East, and South Korea all import over 100,000 tons of U.S. beef each year as well. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
#22. In 2005, the total volume of beef exports was just 472,000 metric tons, which carried a value of $1.36 billion. Since then, volume levels have tripled, and the value of exports has nearly quadrupled. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)
#23. In 2015, the U.S. government inspected 94.3 billion pounds of red meat and poultry, which set a record for the total amount inspect. Poultry on its own reached a record high of 46.3 billion. (Cornell University)
#24. Since 1990, the production coming from the poultry segment of the meatpacking industry has almost doubled. The gap between red meat production and poultry production is gone from 60% in 1990 to just 4% in 2015. (Cornell University)
#25. Although inspection levels are higher, actual commercial meat production numbers are down. In 2015, commercial beef production totaled 23.7 billion pounds, which was a 2% decrease from the year before. (Cornell University)
#26. Commercial mutton and lamb production were off by 3% in 2015, to 150.6 million pounds. That figure was the second-lowest production figures records, only 2.1 million pounds off the record low set in 2011. (Cornell University)
#27. Since 1990, pork production for the meatpacking industry has increased by 60%. In 2015, a record amount of 24.5 billion pounds was processed by the industry. (Cornell University)
#28. Cattle weights have also reached record highs in 2015, even though the annual cattle slaughter was the smallest since 1963. Just 28.8 million head were processed by the meat packing industry, but the average dressed weight was 829 pounds. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#29. Since 1990, the average weight of dressed cattle has increased by 21%, or by 143 pounds. In comparison, the first year the dressed cattle weight was tracked was 1921, and it was just 541 pounds then. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#30. Ready-to-cook chicken production rose in 2015 to a record 40.6 billion pounds, which was an increase of 4% from the year before. Since records were first kept in 1960, the production levels of chicken in this category has risen by 900%. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#31. Turkey production in the United States has risen by almost 500% since 1960, with 5.63 billion pounds processed in 2015. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#32. Since 1990, duck production within the meatpacking industry has seen some of the highest levels of growth, with levels increasing by 41%. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#33. The top 10 states in the U.S. are responsible for 78% of the commercial red meat production that occurs. Iowa is the top state, followed by Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Illinois. (Cornell University)
Meatpacking Industry Trends and Analysis
The meatpacking industry will continue to see growth, even though dietary trends tend to change over time. As consumers begin to move from red meat to poultry, the imbalance between the two industry segments will begin to equalize. Over the next 5-year period, the industry may very well reach its $200 billion plateau for the first time.
When the total economic impact of all activities is measured, the industry may contribute a total of $1 trillion annually for the first time as well, which would be about 6% of the entire GDP for the United States.
There are some concerning reports that may affect the growth trajectory for the meatpacking industry. Reports have linked certain products, such as sausage and bacon, along with other processed meats, with cancer. The report, published by a group affiliated with the World Health Organization, may create an adverse impact on the industry.
Or it may not. Either way, billions of chicken and millions of cattle still need to be processed each year for consumers to eat. It will be the meatpacking industry that helps to make that happen.
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