(Originally published here.)
U.S. beef production has been falling since 2002, while the size of America’s enormouscattle herdis now smaller than at any point since 1952. U.S.beef consumption, meanwhile, has tumbled by about 38 percent since 1976. What gives?
One reason, highlighted in an excellent Bloomberg News article, is bad weather. Droughts have destroyed pasture land and made corn feed more expensive. That has made it costlier to raise cattle, which in turn has increased the relative cost of beef compared to chicken and pork.
These price differences have affected our eating habits. U.S. poultry consumptionhas more than doubled since 1975, while the average American’s pork consumptionhas been relatively stable for the past 50 years. (This, incidentally, is why chained price indexes are problematic ways to represent changes in the cost of living.)
Beef prices, represented by the white line, have risen much more than pork (green) or chicken (yellow). Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Blaming the weather only gets you so far, however. It isn’t as if the weather has been getting so much worse for raising livestock since the 1970s. After all, farmers have boosted their chicken and pork production without much trouble, and are poised tokeep doing so.
If you have ideas as to what might explain this interesting mystery, leave them in the comments!
(Matthew C. Klein is a writer for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)