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The Big Bucks of Bacon: American Meat Industry By the Numbers

The U.S. industry that provides the red meat that ends up on your table –- and tables around the world –- is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture.

A new report linking red meat with an increased cancer risk raised the hackles of the U.S. meat and poultry industry, an economic powerhouse that makes up the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, according to an industry trade group.

In 2013, more than 482,100 workers were directly employed in the meat and poultry packing and processing industries, according to data from the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). Their combined salaries total more than $19 billion, it said. With suppliers and distributors included, that number climbs to 6.2 million jobs and generates $864.2 billion annually, or roughly 6 percent of the entire U.S. GDP, it said.

It’s not immediately clear whether Monday’s report by a World Health Organization-affiliated group that linked consumption of red meat and, especially, processed meat products to an increased risk of cancer will adversely impact the industry.

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But NAMI immediately responded to the finding by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) with a statement decrying what it called a “dramatic and alarmist overreach.”

Here are some other statistics on the U.S. meat and poultry industry:

  • In 2013, the meat and poultry industry processed 8.6 billion chickens, 33.2 million cattle, 239.4 million turkeys, 2.3 million sheep and lambs and 112 million hogs, according to NAMI.
  • From those animals, U.S. meat companies produced 25.8 billion pounds of beef, 23.2 billion pounds of pork, 5.8 billion pounds of turkey, 286 million pounds of veal, lamb and mutton and 38.4 billion pounds of chicken, it said.
  • Though meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped off slightly in recent years, at 270.7 pounds per person a year, we still eat more meat per person here than in almost any other country on the planet. Only the Luxumbourgers eat more meat than we do, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • Total U.S. beef consumption last year was 24.1 billion pounds.
  • In 2012, the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb) and 54.1 pounds of poultry (chicken and turkey), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The USDA recommended in its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for America, its most recent advisory, that the average American adult on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet consume 3.3 ounces — or 0.21 pounds — of red meat, pork and poultry a day. In, fact, the average U.S. adult who consumes meat eats more like 0.36 pounds of meat per day. The WHO report says people who eat a 0.25 pounds of red meat a day raise the risk of colon cancer by 17 percent.

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  • Nearly 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. beef were exported last year, worth nearly $7.14 billion, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
  • Top foreign markets for U.S. beef last year, in descending order, were Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, it said.
  • The top lifestock slaughtering producing states are Nebraska, Kansas and Texas for cattle and Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota for hogs.
  • The meat processing industry itself employed 127,100 Americans as of July, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. They earn in total just under $400 million a month.
  • Of the roughly 24 billion pounds of pork produced last year, roughly 60 percent was processed into products like bacon, sausage, according to the National Pork Producers Council. A little over one-quarter of total production was exported.
  • Average retail prices per pound as of September, according to the BLS: ground beef, $4.13; beef roasts,$5.79; beef steaks, $7.89; sliced bacon, $5.73; pork chops, $3.88; ham (not including canned/sliced), $3.12; bologna (beef or mixed), $2.76.