How ugly can the meat industry be? Luckily, it's easy to avoid.
The pandemic has exposed major weaknesses of many of the American systems we rely on. And, one of those systems is the agricultural system, specifically meat.
You see, four huge companies control 85% of the American meat industry - Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield. It’s monopolistic. When a part of the supply chain goes down, the entire system breaks. And, it’s the farmers, animals, and consumers who take the hit.
For example, in the late spring, farmers who have contracts with these big companies received letters preparing them for “depopulation”.
These four big processing and distribution companies had no way to process animals that the farmers raised. Monopolization has led to us having a mere 800 federally inspected slaughter facilities in the US. Most of these processors closed because employees were staying home due to COVID. They were backed up too much to recover.
And then, the worst case scenario happened. Depopulation. The big companies had hundreds of thousands of animals euthanized, which are still rotting in huge piles on these farmers fields. Just awful on so many levels.
Were the farmers compensated? Nope. Were the animals respected and treated humanely? Nope. Were supermarkets kept stocked with meat? Nope. Did the big companies make profit? Oh, you bet. Maybe not as much as before, but they wouldn’t dare disappoint shareholders.
Farmers simply cannot make a living in a system like this. They are at the whim of these huge processing, distribution, and marketing companies.
For example, one farmer I know (who’s going through a hard time) just sold cows to one of these large companies. He was promised $1.64/lb but, when the check came, he only got $1.04/lb. What can he do? Nothing! No matter the amount of thought and hard labor he puts in, if he deals with these companies, he will disturbingly just go deeper into debt.
American farmers are often generational farmers hoping to pass their business down to their children. Well, with this system, that probably won’t happen. No matter how environmentally sustainable a business is… if it’s not financially sustainable, it cannot survive.
These mega meat companies have the cash to lobby. And, they certainly do. This is why food labels in the supermarket are so darn confusing. Here are just a few examples:
“Product of the USA”: In 2015, the World Trade Organization ruled that Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was illegal, because it discriminated against animals from other countries. Now, “Product of the USA” simply means it was processed here. It doesn’t mean the animals were raised here and are up to American standards. Ugh. Globalization.
“Grass-fed”: Well, this simply means nothing now. In 2015, the USDA dropped the definition of “grass-fed”, claiming that it doesn’t have the authority to verify what farmers feed their animals. So cows fed grass for some portion of their lives can be labeled as “grass-fed”.
“Cage free”, “pasture raised”, “free range”: These are blatantly deceiving. Just because a bird isn’t in a cage doesn’t mean it’s not in an unsanitary and crowded living situation. Free and pasture raised mean the animals have “access” to the outdoors, even if there’s one door leading to a small outdoor space with a dirt floor.
So what can you do? The solution is buying meat directly from small farmers, bypassing these four mega companies.
Miller’s Bio Farm is one of these small farmers. It has full control and great respect for its farmers, animals, and customers.
We use two small local processors for our meat. We know them personally and visit them regularly. They have dedicated staff and did not close due to the pandemic.
We are a zero food waste facility. Depopulation is not an option.
Miller’s farmers, animals, customers, and soil are all greatly respected. We aim to create a food system that is both environmentally and financially sustainable.
How Miller’s describes its products and farming practices is simple, honest, and accurate.
And the best part is that, if you have a question, you can ask the farmer directly and get an accurate and truthful answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’re happy to look into it for you! I really love learning about food and how it’s produced.
Have any questions? Please ask! I love helping customers :)