A first step towards animal-welfare-friendly meat comes in response to discussions with the Humane Society of the United States. The US group Safeway have announced new policies to work with pork and poultry suppliers that prioritise animal welfare. Meatingplace.com say that the US retailer has begun an initiative to increase the amount of pork purchased from North American suppliers that are phasing out gestation crates to confine sows.
Safeway will give buying preference to vendors who are moving away from gestation crates, with plans to purchase an additional 5% of pork from such vendors in year one, 10% in year two and 15% in year three of the initiative.
Safeway also said it will give buying preference to poultry processors in North America that use controlled-atmosphere slaughter systems. This will make Safeway one of the first major retailers to undertake such an effort and sends an important message to suppliers and customers about such issues.
In a related trend, that of growing environmental awareness, ironically the advent of biofuels is said to be driving up production costs. This is particularly true in Russia where demand for biofuels is such that the rise in prices of grains has resulted in rising feed costs, which in turn has caused producers’ incomes to fall.
Biofuels was one of the main topics at USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum where more than 1,700 people gathered just days after the biggest beef product recall in history. USDA will soon begin increased humane handling observation at all federally inspected US slaughter plants to determine if the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company video that led to the largest recall in history was an isolated incident. They plan to increase observation of the handling of cattle in all of the 900 meat slaughter plants in the hope that this was an isolated incident.
Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co are likely to close permanently. They temporarily shut down operations at USDA’s request following the discovery of a video showing employees abusing downer cattle. Although they would be allowed to reopen if they meet certain conditions outlined by USDA, general manager Anthony Madigow doubted that would happen. Cash flow has become an issue as some customers have stopped payment for merchandise that was among the 143 million recalled pounds. Also, government officials said Hallmark/Westland would be required to pay costs associated with destroying and replacing meat supplied to the National School Lunch Program. ‘If the USDA wants payment back, we’re dead meat’, Madigow said. ‘There’s no way we could pay it all back.’
Having discontinued cattle slaughter at their Emporia processing facility in Kansas, Tyson Foods say they are increasingly accepting the realities of what has become a bleak beef market. Sustained droughts in the Great Plains, rising grain costs, increased development of rural lands and closed exports have all played a part in reducing the nation’s cattle herd, experts say.
According to numbers released on February 1 by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the US herd has declined by 300,000 head since January 1, 2007. Meanwhile, beef calves that had calved by January 1 were down 338,000 from 2007 and heifers of 500lb or more held for beef calf replacement were down by almost 208,000 head. Indications are that the herd will continue to shrink.
Tyson’s Emporia slaughterhouse is the fourth US beef plant to be shut down in the past ten years.
A Greenpeace International report places much of the blame for rising greenhouse gas emissions on agriculture – and specifically on livestock. The solution, Greenpeace suggests, is that more of the world’s population need to become vegetarian so that the head count of livestock can drop. However, that’s unlikely to happen; developing countries logged a 77% increase in meat consumption in the three decades ended 1990.
Shelagh Davy