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Meat Processing: Background and Overview
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Demographic Background

Meat and meat products are an important part of diet in many parts of the world, especially in developed nations where consumption of animal protein per capita is at its highest. With annual sales surpassing $100 billion, the United States is the world's second largest meat-producing country, following China. The food and related products industry accounts for 13 percent of all manufacturing output in the United States. Livestock production is directly related to meat processing as an industry supplier; however, for purposes of this information guide, agriculture operations are not included.

With annual revenues of $30 billion, the U.S. poultry industry is the world's largest producer and exporter of poultry meat. Annual poultry production exceeds 35 billion pounds in the United States. National consumption of poultry meat (broilers, other chicken and turkey) is higher than either beef or pork, but less than total red meat consumption. From 1970 to 1999, chicken and turkey consumption per person in the United States doubled (USDA).

Since 1935, per capita consumption of meat and seafood has doubled. In 2001, the national average per capita consumption of meat (including red meat and poultry) was 187.8 pounds (USDA). The USDA reports that there are 292 large meat processing plants under federal inspection which slaughter and process the greatest share of the nation's red meat and poultry products. The USDA also lists 2,300 small plants that are under federal meat inspection and another 3,229 very small plants that are federally inspected. Another 2,007 very small operations fall under state inspection in 25 states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 215,400 workers are employed in the nation's meat processing plants. This includes all red meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants.

The meat processing industry includes facilities engaged in animal slaughter where the meat is to be sold or used on-site in canning, cooking, curing, freezing or making meat products such as sausage, formed meats and other foodstuffs. Meat processing also includes rendering of inedible and discarded remains into useful byproducts such as lards and oils. Slaughterhouses process approximately 30 million adult cattle and 79 million hogs which generates $50 billion annually. These facilities are concentrated in Texas, California and the Midwest. The processing operations produce shipments worth more than $20 billion yearly. One-third of all meat processors are located in California, Illinois, Texas and New York.

Environmental Impact Overview

According to the U.S. EPA, in recent years the meat processing industry has been challenged by a variety of economic and safety issues: an extremely competitive marketplace, rapid consolidation, high labor turnover rates, new federal safety rules (known as HAACP regulations), public concerns over diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) and hoof and mouth disease, and increasing community and public opposition to meat processing operations. Traditionally, processors were paid for their offal; however, many service providers now charge for managing this material.

The primary environmental impacts of the meat processing industry include water use, wastewater generation, treatment and disposal, and odors. Annually, the industry consumes about 150 billion gallons of water, at a cost of about $750 million. Wastewater includes significant amounts of organic solids such as particles of fat and blood, which may reach 20,000 tons annually at a large facility, as well as nitrogen and ammonia compounds, phosphorus and chlorine. Meat processors, especially slaughterhouses, also generate some of the highest volumes of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in wastewater of any industrial sector (about 2.3 billion pounds annually), at an estimated cost of $468 million. A large processing plant also can produce 10,000 to 20,000 tons of organic waste materials. Like all industries, meat processing can benefit from improved energy efficiency, although energy consumption generally does not rate among the industry?s priority environmental concerns.


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The Meat Processing Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
Contact email: abray@newmoa.org

Hub Last Updated: 3/11/2008