Saturday, July 5, 2008

Price Watch: The Meat Market

As prices for food have risen over the Spring and early Summer, one price is on the decline. The cost of meat has taken a downturn and sales on hamburger, chicken, and pork are showing up at the super market. The good news is there is still time to stock up because the BAD news is these good deals wont be around for long.

There is actually a logical reason for the price downturn on meat and it has to do with the price of feed. As prices on corn, soy and other feed grains skyrockets, it becomes too costly for farmers to feed their cattle. Rather than waiting for them to get larger like they typically do, farmers cut their loses by taking them to market. This results in a temporary flood of cheap meat.


“There’s definitely liquidation of livestock happening,” and that will cause meat prices to rise later this year and into 2009, said Brenneman, who is also the vice chairman of the American Meat Institute." Full Story

According to Joelle Cremeen, manager of a Colorado Springs, CO bakery surplus store frequented by area ranchers, they are dumping their cattle as quickly as possible.

"All of them are telling me the same thing. They had to get rid of their cattle NOW and the prices they are getting just aren't very good. " said Joelle, "They also all told me to stock up while the meat is cheap because low prices are not going to last. I am going to start pricing chest freezers."

I already have my freezer and have been filling it with 99¢/lb ground beef and 99¢/lb chicken breast. As I see sales on chicken, pork and beef, I will buy as much as the weekly grocery budget allows so I can ride through the prices increases to come. I suggest you do the same.


Anna said...

Your point about stocking a freezer with meat is a excellent one. I love breezing through the market past the meat sections, because I already have what I need at home. In May I stocked my extra freezer with a half grassfed Montana bison recently, locking in my meat costs (for at least 6+ months) before the rising fuel prices add to the transportation costs (the ranch in Montana made a co-op delivery to my area and will come back in the fall). No, what I bought isn't nearly as cheap as the bargain basement grain fed beef prices you quote, but I prefer naturally raised (pasture) meat over CAFO (feedlot) meat, for lots of reasons. I'd like to lay out a few arguments for *not* buying the cheap meat you suggest, and instead buying in bulk from a pasture based rancher.

I don't mean to be argumentative, but I think there are a number of good reasons to consider more than the cheap price when buying meat that worth worth mentioning. I understand for some folks, the cheap grocery store meat might be the only meat they can choose, or they'll go without meat, so that is one thing - even industrial meat is better nutrition than boxed mac n' cheese or ramen noodles. But for those with a freezer who can consider buying a large amount of meat in quantity (bulk), there are lots of pasture based ranches that sell direct to the public and offer a good value for the money overall (not just considering price). It's often possible to split sides with people and still get the the price break of the whole side price.

One, the fat in pastured meat is healthier (more omega 3 and far fewer of the omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that American consume too much of already- a much healthier "ratio" of omega 3:6. It does matter what the animals eat, too. We are what our food consumes, whether it is animal or plant food.

Two, pasture based animals are healthier animals to begin with, as they are designed by nature to eat off pasture, not concentrated amounts of grain. It is a more humane way to raise animals, too, as they spend their lives living as they are designed. Animals in CAFOs are generally stressed, sick, and live miserable lives, too. Cheap meat is inhumane meat.

Grain feeding is an industrial (more profitable) way to raise animals in a factory scale, faster and cheaper because of cheap oil model - it doesn't make better food for us. Grain-fed animals develop a high acid rumen (stomach that ferments their feed) and receive antibiotics to keep them from getting sick (and growth hormones to fatten up to market weight faster). That high acid stomach environment is what led to the pathogenic E. Coli 0157:H7 that is causing such problems with food poisonings, both in industrially processed ground beef and now in fresh produce from the toxic industrial manure fertilizers - that dangerous version of E. Coli can survive human stomach acid barriers, especially with so many people taking anti-acid medications.

And lastly, cheap CAFO meat is a major assault on the environment, from the massive amount of manure that collects at CAFOS, leading to air and ground water pollution, to the higher carbon footprint from the additional energy input from raising grain, added transportation input.

On the other hand, pasture based animals are part of the natural cycle of renewal on land (assuming proper grass growing and grazing practices, which ranchers are moving back to). The animals' manure (which is healthy fertilizer compared to toxic CAFO manure because it is fermented grass and has no antibiotic residue and pathogenic e. coli) is spread over a wide area, putting back in the soil what it taken out. Soil fertility is improved, which supports a good range of grasses. A proper pasture based system is biodynamic, and an excellent system of converting sunshine to grass to protein, rather than energy being constantly extracting from one location and moved to another location, and so on. Grain feeding is makes constant withdrawals on resources and no deposits - in other words - unsustainable in the long run - and depends on cheap oil ... which we just don't have any more.

There are other reasons to choose pastured meat, too, from supporting small family farms, to knowing your farmer (short farm-to-fork route and fewer worries during recalls), to avoiding the numerous problems with the industrial agricultural food system for philosophical & political reasons, so if anyone is interested in learning more, I highly suggest Joel Salatin's books, Holy Cow and Hog Heaven, as well as Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.

Again, I don't mean to be argumentative, but I do want to point out there is a lot more to consider than simply the price one pays at the cash register. That price rung up at the register is actually just a down payment. We are paying the rest of the cost in our taxes (subsidized grain production especially), in our environment, and delaying much of the cost into our future and our children's future.

Jade said...

We're already working on stocking up. The freezer will be here tomorrow. Good to know that it's a very limited time offer on the cheap meat. Damn. There's going to be many tears soon when red meat hits the price of salmon out here!

ps yahoo went down so I can't email or text you :/

Samantha said...

I never really cared much about the price of meat because i just had to buy it no matter how much it costs.....but i must agree that buying chicken breasts at 98cents a pound and NY strips at less than 5$ a pound is a gift in itself.
I love your blog!
I too am from colorado but am living here in little delaware.
I post alot on the LC forum as well as samantha22 and just wanted to say hello!

PJ said...

What the ... WHERE are you finding these prices??

I only have two grocery stores around me - 'super walmart's grocery area and a little store down the street. I haven't noticed meat prices in either of them particularly changing so far!

Wifezilla said...

Hi Anna!

Thanks for your informative post. My budget simply does not allow for grass fed beef, but I am on the look out. My plan for this year was to buy 1/2 grass fed cow, but gas prices killed that budget.

Hi Samantha! Hi Jade!

Pj, I am in within 10 minutes of a Super Walmart, King Soopers, Albertson's and a Safeway. I am sure the competition is keeping my prices low.

Raven said...

I love you blog, and these are great ideas! Thanks for the tip.