Why is There a Beef Shortage? An In-Depth Look at the Causes and How to Prepare

Beef is an iconic staple of the classic American diet. A juicy burger or grilled steak are comforting favorites that many of us have enjoyed since childhood. However, in recent years, there have been growing signs of an impending beef shortage that could make this entree hard to come by.

In February 2024, the USDA announced that the American beef industry hit a record low, with beef cattle inventory dropping to 28.2 million this year – the lowest levels since the 1970s. Agricultural economists blame this on an ongoing drought, high feed costs, inflation, and ranchers having fewer cattle. However, there are more complex factors at play that help explain this concerning trend of declining beef supply.

In this in-depth article, we’ll analyze why there is a beef shortage developing in America and what we can do to prepare.

Where Does Our Beef Come From?

If you ask most Americans where their beef comes from, they’ll likely say cattle farms in the USA. Surprisingly though, the majority of beef we purchase actually comes from other countries. According to White Oak Pastures, beef imports come from all over the world, including Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, China, and more.

This imported beef is mostly lean meat trim that gets mixed into ground beef, allowing multinational packers to sell a product labeled “Product of the USA” that is composed of foreign beef. Perplexingly, there is no mandatory Country of Origin Labeling law, so consumers easily end up eating imported beef while believing it came straight from American farms.

Farmers Being Forced Out of Business

One of the key factors contributing to the beef shortage is that our domestic farmers are being regulated out of business. Recent regulations aimed at environmental protection and labor laws have severely impacted family farms. As Paso Robles Press reported, small farmers cannot keep up with the increasing rules which favor large corporate farms.

San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett explained how well-intentioned regulations often have unintended consequences: “It hurts our family farms the worst. […] It is regulations that when you aren’t working in agriculture, on paper might look very rational.” The complexity of running a farm in accordance with multiplying regulations makes it extremely difficult for family farms to survive.

Corporate Control of the Meat Industry

Making matters worse is the high level of corporatization and foreign ownership in the meat industry. The majority of meat processing in the US is controlled by only four companies: Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and National Beef. Together they dominate 85% of the US beef market. However, most of these “US” meat companies are actually foreign owned.

  • JBS USA Holdings, Inc. is a subsidiary of Brazilian company JBS S.A.
  • National Beef is controlled by Brazilian producer Marfrig Global Foods S.A.
  • Cargill is America’s largest privately owned company.
  • Tyson is the only major one of the “Big Four” that is American owned.

The same situation exists in the pork and poultry industries, with a few multinational corporations controlling the majority of the market. This corporate concentration limits competition and puts our food supply in peril should anything disrupt these giant companies’ operations.

The Push for Synthetic Lab-Grown Meat

Influential billionaires like Bill Gates are also driving the beef shortage by investing heavily in synthetic lab-grown meat startups and lobbying for policies to restrict or eliminate conventional beef consumption. Gates has stated that all rich countries should “move to 100% synthetic beef” and is actively funding research into manufactured cell-cultured meat.

Major meat processors like Tyson and Cargill are also pivoting to plant-based meat alternatives and teaming up with companies commercializing bug protein. These initiatives may impact the availability of real beef if public perception shifts against conventional meat and governments impose policies in line with the anti-meat stance promoted by elite agenda setters.

What Can We Do?

In light of the complex forces threatening America’s beef supply, here are some steps you can take:

  • Educate yourself and others. Learn about what is happening so you can make informed choices and raise awareness.

  • Stock up on storable protein. Ensure your family’s food supply by stocking up on canned and freeze-dried meats or meal kits with real meat.

  • Buy local. Support small farmers in your community by purchasing meat directly from them.

  • Start hobby farming. Raise your own small livestock flock if zoning allows.

  • Grow fruits and veggies. Cultivate a home garden with heirloom seeds to offset grocery costs.

  • Contact representatives. Voice concerns over regulations and policies damaging domestic beef producers.

The American beef industry is clearly at an precarious point, with the cattle inventory dropping to levels not seen since the 1970s. This concerning trend stems from a combination of factors, including burdensome regulations, corporate consolidation, and influential figures pushing synthetic alternatives. Being aware of the forces at play allows us to take action and preserve access to real, quality beef raised by American ranchers and farmers.

Why There Could Be a Meat Shortage

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