Cheap meat: At what true cost?

“Meat is too cheap” is a stark comment made by the German Agriculture Minister.

In an interview with ReutersJulia Kloeckner said that the reality of standards in the meat production industry in Germany have been revealed, following a Covid-19 outbreak at a meat plant in the west of the country.

Popular products in Germany include cheaper meats – traditional sausage or ‘wurst’ and peppered salami. Low-budget households often rely on these products.

In question are the measures taken in order to keep the cost of meat so cheap – and whether there is a bigger price being paid for it.

‘Low prices do not fit with sustainability’

Kloeckner told Reuters: “Lurid advertising with low prices for meat does not fit with appreciation and sustainability… This is no longer acceptable.”

When there were attempts made to trace those affected by Covid-19 in the plant, slaughterhouses apparently could not provide home addresses for all their workers because they purportedly relied on sub-contractor companies to supply them with migrant workers.

Some of these sub-contractors were also relying on sub-contractors to supply them with workers, the report noted.

Calling it “sub-sub-sub-contracting”, the German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil condemned the system in which meat processors recruit workers and, to stop it, is implementing a law that will force these plants to recruit workers directly.

Minister for Agriculture Kloeckner also has a list of measures she will implement, as she intends to end the “serious consequences of downward meat price pressures on animal welfare, working conditions in abattoirs and farmers’ incomes”.

She has acknowledged these plans as ones that may drive businesses abroad, which will also lead to a loss of control over standards.

Reuters reported that Kloeckner has proposed an animal welfare levy, to give farmers better prices and to stop the risk of driving meat processing abroad. She also intends to push for European animal welfare labels on meat.

‘meat should not be an everyday junk product’

At a meeting with meat industry representatives in June, she said that “meat should not be a luxury commodity for the rich, but also not an everyday junk product”.

One website, Numbeo, estimates that a kilo of beef leg costs €10.64 in Germany, compared to €16.67/kg in France, €14.58/kg in the Netherlands or €12.32/kg in Denmark.

German meat processing industry association VDF told Reuters that the industry “will accept change”.

The sector has decided to depart from the system of worker contracts in slaughtering, cutting and packing of meat as fast as possible.

Another association, ZDG, told Reuters: “German poultry meatpackers will also end sub-contracting by early 2021, but the transfer to permanent employment will lead to rising production costs and higher prices for poultry meat products.”

The German farmers’ association DBV has apparently supported the moves on ending sub-contracting in the meat processing industry.