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The Amazing Meat & Poultry Supply

Increasing numbers of Americans show a renewed interest and curiosity about the source of the food they feed their families. This interest is a positive development. People who produce food, like farmers, ranchers and food processors, are proud of what they do. A look at the facts about the U.S. meat and poultry supply reveals just what a miracle it truly is. The people who deliver meat and poultry to your tables are entrepreneurs, innovators, animal lovers and scientists who care about the food they produce because it’s the same food they feed their families.

The facts in this brochure are designed to offer a snapshot of the U.S. meat and poultry supply. The data are carefully referenced to sources. We hope after reading this you’ll agree:

It’s amazing.


The U.S. meat and poultry industry is among the largest and most efficient systems in the world. Our herds and flocks are a national asset and include 91 million head of cattle; 66 million pigs; 5.3 million sheep; 9 billion chickens and 242 million turkeys.

U.S. meat and poultry plants total nearly 7,000 and each plant is inspected every day by federal inspectors from the Agriculture Department. Plants that handle live animals have inspectors present during every minute of operation who are fully empowered to take action when problems occur, including stopping lines and shutting plants down.

In 2011, the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef; 22 billion pounds of pork; 148 million pounds of lamb; 37 billion pounds of chicken and 5.8 billion pounds of turkey.


As a complete, high quality protein offering unique contributions of key nutrients such as iron, zinc and Vitamin B12, meat and poultry products are a nutrition home run.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend that 15-35 percent of daily calories come from the protein category − which includes meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds − and that protein should be consumed every day depending upon gender, age and level of activity. Federal data show that Americans,on average, are eating what they should, although women and teen girls often don’t get enough.

Meat and poultry, as well as eggs, dairy, and fish, are “complete proteins,” meaning they provide all the essential amino acids needed for health. A wide variety of plant protein sources (legumes, lentils, grains, etc.) must be eaten throughout the day or over a couple of days to deliver the full array of essential amino acids in meat and poultry.

Meat and poultry products are rich in key nutrients including protein and vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, niacin. Meat, poultry and other animal proteins are also unique sources of Vitamin B12 which can only be found otherwise in certain types of seaweed and nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 is key for the development of blood cells and maintenance of a healthy nervous system.

University of California Davis researchers studied the development of 544 children for two years and found that adding two ounces of meat to the diets of children who ordinarily consume a starchy diet resulted in an 80 percent increase in muscle mass and significantly improved cognitive function. Children receiving meat supplements were more active on the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed more leadership skills, the researchers found. Their data showed that test scores for mental skills improved by 35 points for the meat group while remaining unchanged for the children who received no supplements.3 A 2012 study of brain development throughout history concluded that “Without routine access to ASF [animal source foods], it is highly unlikely that evolving humans could have achieved their unusually large and complex brain.4 Research also shows that protein, like protein in meat and poultry, offers weight loss benefits through a higher degree of satiety or “satisfaction” from hunger, which means people are less inclined to snack between meals, compared to carbohydrates or fat.5

Food Safety and Inspection

Producing food that is safe and nutritious is “priority one” for the meat industry. A recent survey of AMI members showed extensive use of food safety practices and technologies, from boot scrubbers and hand sanitizers for workers to special hide and carcass washes to destroy external bacteria. Meat and poultry companies wage a daily war on bacteria, and they do this under the watchful eye of federal inspectors.

In fact, no other industry in America has continuous inspection like the meat and poultry industry does. Plants and the products they produce are inspected every day. Plants that handle live animals must have inspectors, including veterinarians, present at all time. The largest of these plants can have two dozen inspectors present in a two-shift day.

Bacteria are a normal part of nature and can be found on all raw agricultural products – milk, meat, carrots and grains. Technologies in meat and poultry plants have helped reduce bacteria dramatically over the last decade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors foodborne illnesses more closely than ever using more sophisticated methods. Still, CDC data show that illnesses are declining.

CDC released 2010 data in late 2012 and said, “Overall, the FoodNet 2010 report shows a downward trend in foodborne infections, which is due, at least in part, to…cleaner slaughter methods, microbial testing, and better inspections in ground beef processing plants.”


One might think that a meat supply that is as safe and nutritious as ours would cost more, but data show the Americans spend less of their disposable income on meat and poultry than any other country in the world.

The affordability of meat and poultry has been improving over time. In 1950, we spent 20 percent of our disposable income on food at home and away from home. Today, we spend less than ten percent.

Plentiful Choices

U.S. meat and poultry consumers enjoy an array of products more varied and plentiful than any other nation in the world.

Consumers can choose conventional, minimally processed, natural, organic or free range. They can choose traditional cuts like fresh steaks or roasts or valued added convenience products like marinated, microwavable chicken breasts or precooked ribs. They also have many nutrition options including products that meet American Heart Association standards.

Animal Welfare

While consumer goods manufacturers use raw materials that come in boxes stored in warehouses, the meat and poultry industry’s raw materials are live animals. This basic fact carries an ethical imperative: to handle animals humanely during the time they are in our care.

Federal inspectors monitor animal welfare in plants at all times and ensure compliance with federal regulations. Violations can result in plant shutdowns.

To ensure welfare and prevent problems, meat and poultry companies use voluntary guidelines and auditing programs written by the world’s leading animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., professor of animal science at Colorado State University, whose life and work have been immortalized in an Emmy award winning film Temple Grandin.

American Meat Institute members report that they follow Grandin’s guidelines and audit program. Data collected by Grandin herself show that the widespread use of her program has enhanced animal welfare in plants dramatically during the last two decades.6


Much of the land used for livestock grazing is too hilly or dry to support crops, but grazing animals on pasture allows farmers to make the most of marginal land.

Improved breeding, housing and nutrition are reducing the time it takes to raise livestock and poultry to market weight while also reducing the environmental impact

When fewer animals are needed to produce the necessary amount of meat and poultry, less manure is produced

At the plant, the commitment to the environment continues. In fact, in a recent survey, 83 percent of AMI member meat and poultry companies reported that they have active sustainability initiatives under way.

Economic and Community Benefits

Just as meat and poultry products have improved and expanded, the benefits to the U.S. economy have, too.

The U.S. meat and poultry industry directly employs nearly half a million people and indirectly contributes an additional nearly six million jobs to the U.S. economy, $894 billion in economic activity and $98 billion in government revenues in the form of taxes paid that create schools, roads and other key services.

Meat and poultry plants also are strong supporters of local food banks through the industry’s partnership with Feeding America. Since 1990, meat and poultry companies have donated millions of surplus meat and poultry through an initiative called “Meating the Need.”

Meat and poultry companies in an AMI survey also indicate strong engagement in community efforts, including charity walks, tutoring, sports team sponsorships, disaster relief efforts and more.

Feeding the World

While feeding our citizens is our first priority, U.S. meat and poultry companies also play a major role in feeding people around the world through exports. These efforts benefit people in other nations, but also benefit our economy.

Demand for U.S. meat and poultry products is strong. According to USDA, U.S. beef exports totaled 1,133,947 metric tons in 2012, while U.S. pork exports totaled 2,262,125 metric tons. A strong export market means more jobs at home to produce the meat and poultry.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, by 2050, food production must increase by about 70 percent—34 percent and that is higher than it is today—to feed the anticipated nine billion people. 8 This projected population increase is expected to involve an additional annual consumption of nearly one billion metric tons of cereals for food and feed and 200 million metric tons of meat.


From meat and poultry’s affordability to its nutrition and safety, there’s simply no question: the U.S. meat and poultry supply is a modern miracle and an American asset. And the wide array of choices allow everyone to choose a product that reflects his or her taste, nutrition needs, lifestyle and values.

It really is amazing.


  • [3] Allen, L.H., Interventions for Micronutrient Deficiency Control in Developing Countries: Past, Present and Future, Journal of Nutrition 133: 11 (2003) 3875S-3878S
  • [4] Milton, Katharine, The Critical Role Played by Animal Source Foods in Human (Homo) Evolution, Journal of Nutrition. 133.11 (2003): 3886-3892.
  • [5] Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes R, Wolfe R, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantega M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (2008); 87(suppl): 1558S-61S.
  • [6] Data acessed at web site of Dr. Temple Grandin,
  • [7] Capper, JL, The environmental impact of beef production in the United States: 1977 compared with 2007, Journal of Animal Science (2011) 4249-61
  • [8] On horizon 2050 - billions needed for agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, October 8, 2009, accessed at