- The meat-processing giants led the way. A 2007 report [PDF] from University of Missouri researchers Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan tells the story. In 1989, the four largest hog processors slaughtered 34 percent of the hogs raised in the United States. By 2005, that ratio had risen to 64 percent. The same trend held sway in beef and chicken — and has only intensified since. Today, just four giant companies — Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield — process more than half of the beef, chicken, and pork consumed in the United States.
As these companies lurch along, forever looking to get bigger and cut corners to maintain profitability, society pays a steep price for all the cheap meat they churn out. Genoways nailed how workers fare under our cheap-meat regime. Abuse of animals is routine. Entire ecosystems get trashed, as is the case of the Chesapeake Bay — once one of the globe’s most productive fisheries, brought to near-ruin by runoff from a stunning concentration of factory chicken farms. Family farmers are literally turned into serfs as they scale up to meet the industry’s demands. And we all face the menace of the antibiotic-resistant pathogens now brewing up on animal factory farms, which now consume 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States (both to make livestock grow faster and keep them alive in cramped, filthy conditions).