The Future of Meat

September 25, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 34
Can the industry navigate health and environmental concerns?
By Sara Toth Stub


Nearly all sectors of the global meat industry face unprecedented challenges. In the United States, a handful of companies control much of the $218 billion industry, making it difficult for smaller players to compete. And the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a high toll, killing more than 200 workers and infecting 42,000 others in U.S. beef, poultry and pork processing plants and forcing dozens of those facilities to temporarily shut down. Globally, meat conglomerates increasingly are interconnected, with animal feed, livestock and meat being shipped across the planet. Growing worldwide demand for meat is raising environmental concerns, with many experts saying the industry exacerbates climate change, threatening global food supplies. Other experts disagree, saying animal agriculture is a relatively small source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The industry's critics say factory farms pose human health risks due to their routine use of antibiotics, their storage of large concentrations of manure and by serving as ideal incubators for pathogens that can jump from animals to humans. Meanwhile, plant-based meat substitutes are challenging the industry, but they face obstacles of their own.

Photo of cattle eating at an industrial feedlot in Floresville, Texas. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Daniel Acker)
Cattle eat at an industrial feedlot in Floresville, Texas. As the global supply of beef, pork and poultry becomes increasingly interconnected to meet growing demand, the industry faces concerns about rising greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and the use of antibiotics. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Daniel Acker)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Food Safety
Sep. 03, 2021  Food Security
Sep. 25, 2020  The Future of Meat
Feb. 15, 2019  Fast-Food Shakeout
Jun. 16, 2017  Food Labeling
Oct. 03, 2014  Food Policy Debates
Aug. 31, 2012  Genetically Modified Food
Dec. 17, 2010  Food Safety
Jan. 26, 2007  Slow Food Movement
Nov. 01, 2002  Food Safety
Mar. 30, 2001  Biotech Foods
Sep. 04, 1998  Food Safety Battle: Organic Vs. Biotech
Jun. 04, 1993  Food Safety
Jun. 12, 1992  Food Irradiation
Nov. 08, 1991  Fast-Food Shake-up
Nov. 18, 1988  How Safe Is Your Food?
Dec. 11, 1981  Controversy Over Salt in Food
Dec. 08, 1978  Fast Food: U.S. Growth Industry
May 12, 1978  Food Additives
Dec. 26, 1969  Food Additives
Dec. 04, 1968  Synthetic Foods
Jan. 20, 1960  Food Safeguards
Feb. 09, 1952  Chemicals in Foods
Dec. 18, 1934  Revision of the Pure Food and Drugs Act
Agriculture and the Environment
Air Pollution
Climate Change
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Economic Crises
Exports and Imports
Farm Produce and Commodities
Infectious Diseases
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Party Politics
Party Politics
Regulation and Deregulation
Water Pollution
Workplace Safety and Worker's Compensation