When the public started coming out against pink slime back in March, meat processors warned everyone – let them keep on grinding questionable beef bits, or consumers would soon pay the price (literally) via higher meat costs. Here we are just two months later, and a report from the Associated Press is confirming that meat prices this year are rising faster than food costs overall. But it isn’t just ground beef, it’s everything from chicken to beef to pork, and to blame it all on the pink slime scare would be to highly oversimplify a complex issue.
The Associated Press actually points to the weather as the main culprit behind rising meat prices:
A wet spring delayed corn planting last year. Traders drove up the price of corn futures because supplies were low and demand was robust from livestock producers, ethanol processors and overseas buyers. Corn futures jumped to an all-time high of $7.87 per bushel last June.
Feedlot owners who use corn to fatten up cattle before slaughter felt the pinch. Hog and chicken producers cut back on the number of animals they raised to offset higher corn costs.
In addition, a devastating drought in parts of the country dried up grasslands and ranges where cattle graze. Some ranchers sold off big numbers of animals instead of paying to truck in hay for feed.
In January, the U.S. Agriculture Department said that U.S. cattle herds were the smallest since 1952. Live cattle futures jumped to $1.3115 per pound in February, the highest level in decades. That meant higher costs for feedlot owners and meat packers. And those costs were passed on to consumers.
Pink slime was also mentioned, along with California’s recent mad cow disease scare, but both were just passing concerns that paled in comparison to bigger factors. But altogether, the factors combined have led to meat prices that are expected to rise an average of 3.5-4.5 percent before the year 2012 is out. Steaks have seen the highest jump with a price increase of 6 percent compared to last year. Pork saw the least difference, rising 3 percent, with chicken in the middle at a little over a 5 percent raise (and still ranking in at the lowest cost per pound).
It’s not the end of the world: maybe you throw a few veggie skewers on the grill along with the T-bones at your Memorial Day cookout this year, and put a little more care into crafting your burger patties (or get creative with quinoa and beets for some savory vegetarian-friendly patties). There’s no need to let prices ruin your barbecue – but it is important to stay aware of what’s happening in the market and why.
[SOURCE: Associated Press via Huffington Post]