Shifting vs. Reducing Meat Consumption: Exports

 Consume Less at Home, Sell More Abroad

There are various campaigns designed to encourage reduced meat consumption in much of the Western World.  The three most common “benefits” I observe used in such campaign promotion include:  (1) Human Health, (2) Animal Rights and/or Well-Being, and  most recently (3) Environmental Impact.

Export Markets and Population

All of that can be perfectly well intentioned; however, the thought that reduced meat consumption will result in fewer livestock animals and thus, fewer GHG’s, seems oversimplified and flawed.  Why?  Because the food system is global and what we don’t sell domestically we can likely be export.  As of Feburary 2011, 27% of U.S. pork and 12.9% of U.S. beef was exported (Source:  U.S. Meat Export Federation).

Major export markets for U.S. meats include Mexico, Republic of Korea, Canada, Japan, Egypt, Vietnam and Russia.  The list of other markets is expansive.  We should also remember that Europe (11%) and Northern America (U.S. + Canada; 5%)  — where much of the emphasis on meat consumption reduction is concentrated — constitutes 16% of the World’s population.  That is nearly the same as food-insecure Africa (15%).

Finding New or Larger Markets

Yes, the U.S., Canada and Europe consume a lot of meat, much more than many other places.  One reason for this is that much meat is produced there (or elsewhere and imported).  Increased economic prosperity almost always results in increased meat consumption, and universal adoption of an effort to make conscious food choices (that’s one description I’ve read of Meatless [insert day] campaigns) seems unrealistic.  Have you ever gotten the chain E-mail fwd: about Wal-Mart in China?  As more countries continue to develop, their demand for meat will grow.  Even if we all go meatless for a day in the U.S. (this is a popular example) — one day per week — that means a 14.3% (1/7) more meat would be available for export.

Be it independent farmers or agribusinesses, small butcher shops or packing industry giants, I bet that they would figure out a way to export meat to new or larger markets rather than reducing the size of their herds, flocks, and businesses.

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