Sunday, October 31, 2021


 So Covid 19 has certainly been a problem for the meat industry. First plants shutting down, then reopened with staff shortages. Trucking and supply chain issues are common, like any industry. But, as of this September, the prices and profit margins are up, especially for the largest processors. Farmers are not seeing the same results with worker shortages and prices for them remaining static. Meat prices have increased by over 10% from last year except in the pork sector. Pork is up too, but not as much. That could quickly change.

 ASF or African Swine Fever has been around for many years. A hemorrhagic fever, it presents in its early stages as a high fever, cough, loss of appetite and broken blood vessels in the ears. It was originally discovered in wild hog species as far back as the 1700s. Wild hogs typically will have immunity due to their being exposed to it in the past. Ticks feeding on the hogs can transmit it. Wild hogs foraging on remains of infected hogs can transmit it. Close contact can transmit it. The problem arises when domestic breeds contract the disease. They do not have the immunities that a wild animal has. This is similar to Avian Flu, where wild birds may have the disease and spread it to domestic birds with devastating effect. This hemorrhagic viral hog disease causes the pig to basically bleed out in just a few short days. Hemorrhagic fevers are the type of disease that  are easily transmitted and there are no vaccines or preventions other than culling the infected herds. The map below show the outbreaks in domestic hogs in 2018.


 The disease has spread dramatically into China, Vietnam as well as Eastern Europe. Being that this disease affects overbred, domestic hogs raised in confinement the results are devastating to farmers. China has had at least a dozen outbreaks resulting in losses totally over a billion dollars. Huge herds have been destroyed to contain it as of this past summer. 

 In Europe, the first cases showed up in Portugal in the 1950s and has haunted farmers for years. Tight controls and safety measures on farms have kept it at bay but it shows up year after year with some outbreaks worse than others. Most recently Belgium has had an outbreak and Germany has discovered it in wild boars. 

 Before I continue, ASF can not be transferred to humans, unlike swine flu. It is more similar to the disease that effects wild deer, EHD, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which devastated some deer populations in the North East US. These diseases certainly need to be observed closely for changes in their strains. 

Back to the A S Fever. There has never been a case in the US. The amount of wild hogs and ticks in the US doesn’t bode well if it spreads here. Many farms already have some strict protocol in place to keep their pigs safe but for smaller, heirloom breed growers that want to keep their pigs outside part of the time, this could be disaster. 

Recently cases have showed up in the Western Hemisphere for the first time in over 40 years. Cases have been discovered in the Dominican Republic and Haiti this fall. The implications and results of this entering the US could result in serious problems for hog farms. The current relatively low prices for pork could possibly spike to previously unknown highs. Currently, one of the reasons prices are higher here in the US is due to our companies exporting more product to other areas, such as China. If this disease were to get a foothold here, the world may be seeing a price increases like crazy. Pork futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange will jump and someone, not farmers, will make a bundle.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Meat Prices Up/ Meat Quality Down

 This post is talking strictly about the large commodity meat industry and not about small local processors. In the past few months we’ve seen a steady increase in meat prices on the commodity level. Large meat processors are limiting production due to a variety of reasons, Covid related mostly. There is speculation on the farmer level that this may be intentional to drive up prices but that is not the focus of this post. but prices have certainly gone way up in a year. An example would be boneless beef striploin 0x1. Last year at this time they were $6.09 per lb. and this year $7.52, wholesale price. Before our summer break at the CIA we cut a few of these. The price was high but I found another issue. The regular Choice cuts we bought seemed to be below grade, more like Select. This is a small sample, but before the pandemic we were finding a lot of mid to high choice strips mixed in the box, some bordering on prime. Some articles are stating cattle are smaller and being pushed to market faster. Feed prices are up too, due to environmental issues. This might be pushing more cattle into lower choice level. Of course there have been some instances of cheating, such as the A.Stein case in Brooklyn where the purveyors were specifically changing the labels from Choice to Prime last year but that is certainly not common. It seems like more beef are hitting the low scores, legally. 

In this photo we see the basic range of Choice and the one on the right is what I’ve been seeing lately. Higher price, lesser quality. You can still buy mid to high Choice through one of the more expensive certified programs and be guaranteed the quality but those prices have gone even higher. A lot of that product is also being sold on the internet sales market which has grown over the pandemic. The high end internet sales bloomed as people stayed home but wanted the steakhouse quality steak and a lot of companies pivoted to those sales last year. 

 I see some similar things with the pork industry. High prices on certain items and some fairly low quality. most pork is not USDA graded so there is mainly the processors quality standard that dictates how good it is. I’m not saying quality standards have slipped but as plants become strapped for workers and places are trying to do more with less, quality seems to back slide some. I found some pretty poorly cut primals and some mushy “RSE” pork. Also, some of the pork was huge, probably a result of plants slowing down and hogs getting oversized. 

 The meat industry, as a whole, struggled through different parts of this pandemic, but some companies have certainly not been hurt financially. The higher prices and slower production have created a formula for some pretty hefty profits but as quality declines and prices stay high, people will adjust eventually and that could change everything….maybe for the better.