July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3
Meat: Children, Substitutes
Children. Some 250,000 mostly Central American children under 18 arrived in the US without their families in 2021 and 2022. Many unaccompanied alien children (UACs) were released by Health and Human Services to distant relatives or strangers from their countries of origin, some of whom put them to work in the US.
When Central American families realized that the US was releasing children under 18 and giving them work permits, many paid smugglers to take their children aged 15 to 17 to the US to work and send home remittances. Once inside the US, the children were placed in shelters until HHS found sponsors for them. Case managers say that HHS leaders encouraged them to send UACs to sponsors who were not vetted in order to empty the shelters.
HHS was warned that some UAC sponsors were trafficking children, sponsoring dozens and sometimes admitting that they expected the UACs to work. HHS says that its responsibility for UACs ends when they are released to sponsors, and that other federal and state agencies are responsible for the welfare of migrant children inside the US. The businesses where the children worked said that they do not hire workers under 18, and promised to improve their management of the temp agencies that provide them with underage workers.
Then Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) attached language to a spending bill in 2019 that prevents ICE from using HHS information to detect and remove the unauthorized sponsors of UACs, with exceptions for criminals. Critics want more HHS-ICE cooperation to monitor sponsors of UACs.
Beef. The price of beef climbed in 2023 because ranchers downsized herds in 2020 and 2021 when covid slowed the disassembly of animals in meatpacking plants. Ranchers typically raise calves and sell them to feedlots, incurring costs of $700 per cow. Farmer profits in 2023 were about $100 a cow, down from $500 in 2013 and 2014, when they received $1,000 or more per cow sold to feedlots.
Feedlots fatten the cows before they are slaughtered at about 20 months of age. Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS, and National Beef process 85 percent of US beef.
Iowa has 3.2 million people and 22 million hogs, most housed on fewer and larger farms that have thousands of pigs. Hog farms emit smells, attract flies, and release methane and other gases, drawing opposition from neighbors. State right-to-farm laws make it hard for neighbors to block the construction of new or expanded hog farms.
Chicken is the most consumed US protein, but the $30 billion value of annual beef sales is double the value of annual chicken sales. Chickens reach market weight in six weeks, and hogs in six months.
Substitutes. Many firms are trying to develop plant-based or cell-cultivated meat. Bay Area-based Upside Foods and Good Meat won USDA approval in June 2023 for cell-cultivated chicken, that is, real meat made in the lab. Animal cells are placed in bioreactors and fed nutrients and oxygen to make them grow, with vegetables and plant-based proteins sometimes added.
Globally, some 350 million metric tons of animal meat worth $1 trillion is sold each year, including almost 10 percent in the US. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, two meat-substitute firms, are struggling in 2023 as few consumers buy plant-based alternative meat regularly. Three-fourths of Americans say they happily eat animal meat, and fewer than five percent are strictly vegetarians (the others may eat only white meat or eat meat only occasionally). Plant-based meat costs up to $8 a pound, at least 50 percent more than animal meat, and include chemical ingredients and salt.
Tyson Foods is one of the largest S&P 500 firms whose founding family continues to control over half of company voting shares. Tyson processes about 20 percent of US beef, chicken, and pork and experiences management turnover.
The USSC upheld California’s 2018 Proposition 12 in a 5-4 decision in May 2023 that requires gestating pigs to have more room, at least 24 square feet rather than the usual 14 square feet, for the pork to be sold in the state. Residents of California consume more pork than any other state, and almost all of the state’s pork is imported from the other states that sued to block implementation of Prop 12, arguing that it violates the Commerce Clause. The USSC held that, because Prop 12 did not discriminate against out-of-state pork producers, it was lawful.