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According to new figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), red meat production has dropped almost 20% this May compared to the same period last year. The data comes amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which saw slaughterhouse closures due to viral outbreaks and producers forced to cull millions of livestock, and is yet another signal that big meat is in crisis.
In a memo released by the USDA in late June, overall red meat production – including beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton – has decreased by 18% in May compared to the same period last year. Beef production, in particular, took the biggest drop at 20% from last year, followed by pork, which was down 15%.
These figures are emerging during the coronavirus pandemic, which according to the latest predictions by the United Nations, is triggering the biggest global decline in meat consumption in decades.
For many who have been keeping up with the dire headlines for the meat industry, the USDA’s latest figures of the drop in meat production comes as no surprise. Recording some of the worst slaughterhouse outbreaks in the world, livestock farmers in the country have been enduring months of shuttered factories, which has meant millions of animals being sent to their graves over the course of the crisis.
With the dangers of the meat industry exposed, many consumers have begun to opt for vegan meat alternatives. At the height of the first wave in the country, plant-based meat sales surged a whopping 280% year-on-year, with surveys conducted in the months after showing strong consumer interest in making a long-term shift away from conventional meat and many respondents stating that the coronavirus crisis played a significant role in their decision.
While there have yet to be any figures on declining meat production in Asia, it is likely that the demand for conventional meat has taken a significant hit over the course of the pandemic. Last month, polls from the U.K. to Hong Kong all showed consumer willingness to ditch or at the least reduce meat intake.
Despite animal meat remaining a huge industry globally, the recent figures indicate hope that the food system can shift away from relying on sustainable livestock production to meet the world’s protein demands. For years, activists and scientists have been calling for a radical transformation to a plant-centric food system in order to reduce the whopping 18% of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to animal agriculture alone.
Reducing meat production will also help to prevent future public health emergencies and pandemics. In a recent report by the United Nations, experts highlighted the rising consumption of animal protein and unsustainable agricultural intensification as a result of demand for animal-based foods as key causes of zoonotic disease emergence.
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