Meat Mystery

  • Buggin’ out over the meat industry
  • Meatpacking: As dangerous as prison? 
  • Carnivores, coronavirus (and climate change)
  • Limiting carbon… with livestock
  • Striking up a friendship with Old MacDonald
  • Basket-case oil
  • MI executive orders attrition… 
  • … and false-choice folly
  • A reader wonders if Americans are given to fascism… Another wonders if we should have our heads examined… And more!

Seen recently on the alt-social media site Gab…

Meatplants

He’s right about those articles, by the way…

  • “Why Aren’t We Eating More Insects?” — New York Times Style Magazine, Sept. 7, 2018
  • “Bugs: The Food That Can Feed, and Maybe Save, The Planet” — CNN, Oct. 25, 2019
  • “Eating Insects Set to Become an $8 Billion Business by 2030” — Business Insider, June 25, 2019

And now, amid the corona-crisis, Popular Science weighs in with the most direct headline of all: “You Should Start Eating Bugs. Here’s How.”

As youre surely aware by now, Plant shutdowns are leaving the U.S. dangerously close to meat shortages as coronavirus outbreaks spread to suppliers across the nation and the Americas,” reports Bloomberg.

“Almost a third of U.S. pork capacity is down, the first big poultry plants closed on Friday and experts are warning that domestic shortages are just weeks away…

“New U.S. shutdowns are hitting at a dizzying rate. Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s No. 1 pork producer, said Friday it was closing another operation, this one in Illinois. That news hit less than an hour after Hormel Foods Corp. said it was idling two of its Jennie-O Turkey plants in Minnesota. JBS said Sunday it will shutter a beef production facility in Wisconsin.”

What Bloomberg neglects to mention is that Smithfield’s giant pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is home to one of the top 10 clusters of U.S. coronavirus cases — more than 1,000 as of this morning.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem surprising. But look where the other nine are located…

Meatpacking

Yeah, there’s no such thing as social distancing in prisons or aircraft carriers. Looking further down the list, it appears meatpacking plants make up five of the top 25 clusters. Huh?

The link between factory farming and increasing pandemic risk is well established scientifically,” write Jonathan Safran Foer and Aaron Gross in The Guardian.

The precise origins of COVID-19 remain subject to debate. But when it comes to other recent pandemic virus threats — bird flu and swine flu especially — “there is no ambiguity,” the authors declare: “Those viruses evolved on chicken and pig factory farms.

“Genetic analyses have shown that crucial components of H1N1 emerged from a virus circulating in North American pigs. But it is commercial poultry operations that appear to be the Silicon Valley of viral development.

“It is on chicken factory farms that we have most frequently found viruses that have mutated from a form found only in animals into a form that harms humans (what scientists call ‘antigenic shift’). It is these ‘novel’ viruses that our immune systems are unfamiliar with and that can prove most deadly.”

Call it an unintended consequence of industrial livestock production.

“The meat that we eat today,” the authors go on, “overwhelmingly comes from genetically uniform, immunocompromised and regularly drugged animals lodged by the tens of thousands into buildings or stacked cages.”

If you sense an agenda at work, you’re right. As we said earlier this month, if you’re a do-gooder world improver, there’s no time like the present for you and your kind to reorder society in a way that’s more to your liking.

Which brings us to another recent article…

Its time to shut down an industry that is at the core of this problem: the factory farming of animals and the destruction of natural habitat that makes this industry possible.”

So write Carter Dillard and Michael Shank at The Hill. “It’s time to shut down this industry before it breeds another virus that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans… A failure to do this and pandemics become part and parcel of daily life.”

For these authors, and many others, meat consumption is totally tied up with climate change.

With the help of an alert reader, we first spotted the trend while the big Paris climate conference was underway in 2015. From a Breitbart story he sent us: “Tackling climate change and improving public health can be achieved by forcing consumers to eat less meat in their diets, and it is up to government to force that change, finds a new report.

“Co-authored by the University of Glasgow and Chatham House, one of the world’s most influential think tanks, the paper claims ‘our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change,’” thanks to the industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Here’s the problem: Most of the do-gooders are conflating “meat consumption” with “factory farming.”

As we also pointed out in 2015, if you take livestock outside the modern industrialized feedlot, they do wonders to limit carbon.

Our former colleague Brad Lemley, the renowned food-and-fitness writer, explained: “Cattle are powerful carbon-fixers. Each time a cow takes a step, its sharp hooves push grass — which is primarily made of carbon pulled from the atmosphere — into the soil. Cattle manure does the same thing. In other words, via two mechanisms, cattle ‘fix’ free carbon, a greenhouse gas, in the Earth’s crust.

“This means that intelligent grazing practices, ‘can take us back to preindustrial [CO2] levels… and feed people,’ says biologist Allan Savory. In fact, his research indicates ‘only livestock can save us.’”

Of course, a few more nightmare stories about factory farming and pandemics… and people might give up industrialized meat on their own. Which would be the best outcome of all.

So muses Joel Salatin, the organic farmer in Virginia who gained a fervent following when he turned up in the Michael Pollan book The Omnivores Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc.

The pigs Salatin raises are processed at a 20-person plant just a 40-minute drive away. Contrast that with the corona-ridden Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls employing 3,700, serving feedlots from hundreds of miles around.

“These large meatpacking plants are cold and damp, the perfect environment for pathogen spread,” he writes. “Compare that to outdoor processing like our great-grandparents did and they had a much safer system…

“As grim as all this is, the devilish smile in me can't help but wonder about the industrial food system collapsing and hungry people being excited to be serviced by on-farm processed pork, hang the plants, hang the inspection, and spread it out over the countryside like a century ago, but with modern stainless steel, hot water and refrigeration.”

Of course, getting from here to there’s going to be miserable. Might want to start a relationship with an organic farmer close to home and fill up a freezer as best you can…

Oil continues to fall apart. Its down 25% so far this morning while stocks are holding strong,” says Greg Guenthner at our trading desk.

Yep. At last check, the black goo trades for $12.20. Meanwhile, the major U.S. stock indexes are all up more than 1%. The S&P 500 has added 35 points to 2,871.

That’s impressive, considering how on Friday our 29-year floor-trading veteran Alan Knuckman told us 2,800 has been a key level going back more than two years now.

Not that it’s time to break out the Champagne yet, he tells us this morning: “The S&P will likely require multiple attempts to stage a meaningful rally off this level.”

Treasuries are selling off, the yield on a 10-year note at 0.65%. Gold is likewise slumping, the spot price at $1,713.

So we can buy seeds here in Michigan again.

On Friday, Gov. Queen of Hearts lifted the most extreme elements of her stay-home order after they were in effect roughly two weeks. We can once again buy garden supplies and paint at big-box stores. Landscaping services are no longer verboten, either.

But shortly before the move, the governor couldn’t help taking a dig at protesters who were irritated by the arbitrary nature of her edicts.

“President Trump called this a war, and it is exactly that. So let’s act like it. In World War II, there weren’t people lining up at the Capitol to protest the fact that they had to drop everything they were doing and build planes or tanks or to ration food.”

Perhaps — just hear us out here — thats because in the present crisis, no one in political leadership has framed the crisis and response in the language of shared sacrifice. Not the Republican president, not the Democratic governors, certainly not the clowns on Capitol Hill.

No one has stepped up to a lectern and said, “Look, I know this is hard. You can’t live your life as you’ve known it. For many of you, your livelihood has been taken away. But I promise you, right now, you’re absolutely doing the right thing for your loved ones, your neighbors, your fellow Americans, by preventing the spread of this terrible scourge. When this is all over, we can thank each other for what we did during these trying times. We’ll all come out the other side of this era better off.”

They wouldn’t even have to believe it to say it. They’re politicians, right?

The fact they dont say it means they worry you and I wouldn’t believe it.

And so, instead of shared sacrifice, the subtext of everything we hear is: “Suck it up, peasants. We know what’s right and you better listen. Disobey and someone’s gonna DIE.”

Or as the governor said during her WWII soliloquy, “This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.”

False-choice fallacy for $200, Alex…

I guess many Americans are given to fascism in desperate times, unfortunately,” a reader writes after the depressing survey results we noted last week.

“But I have to take issue with the question having to do with restricting immigration. It seems entirely reasonable that American citizens want their well-being put ahead of that of foreigners by restricting immigration. Thus the relatively high percentage of people (yes, even Democrats) who are in favor of banning immigration to the country during this time of crisis.

“And no, it is NOT unconstitutional to bar foreigners from entering the country. That's basically what countries do.”

The 5: No, it’s not unconstitutional… but we daresay the Founders might scratch their heads at the idea.

As we noted during the Ebola scare in 2014, the Founders and their succeeding generations didn’t shut down the ports to new arrivals every time word arrived from the Old World about a cholera outbreak or some such.

Indeed there were next to no limits on immigration for the first century of our existence as a republic. (Which is not the same thing as limits on obtaining citizenship. That’s a whole separate discussion.) And there were still very few limits from the 1880s until passage of the Immigration Act of 1924.

At this point, the United States still has more experience with “open borders” than not…

I don't think your brains have been infected with the CCP Wuhan virus,” a reader writes after we were accused of peddling Chinese propaganda

[Can you sense the “but” coming? We’ve been at this for a while, after all…]

“But come on, guys — you can be a little more creative than just suggesting war is our only avenue.

[To be clear, we suggested the only avenues our “leaders” have put on the table so far would raise the temperature to a point that war could easily break out whether they intend it or not.]

“Here are a couple ideas for starters:

  1. Cancel all CCP-owned U.S. Treasury debt and tell them to go pound sand.
  1. Impound all CCP-owned real property and financial instruments domiciled here in America.

“Take the proceeds from Nos. 1 and 2 to pay for some of the financial damages done, as well as to incentivize U.S. businesses to abandon their factories in China and bring production back here, or even perhaps to Mexico. We need to decouple from the CCP ASAP. I plan to do my part by making every effort to avoid buying anything made in China ever again.

“I feel bad for the Chinese people… as they suffer under this evil regime of criminals.

“Love The 5.”

The 5: Rather than address the merits of your specific proposals… we simply ask whether you’ve thought them all the way through. You put them out there as if there’d be no blowback, no second-order effects, no unintended consequences.

Sounds like something that would be proposed by… dare we say it?… liberals.

We bruited just one possibility for blowback a whole 18 months ago, by the way.

“GREAT giving ’em the 'Gusto Gonigam'!” writes our final correspondent — “regarding most episodes, but in particular, to the 'tend our own garden' portion last Thursday.

“Love The 5!”

The 5: Thanks. In that vein, we can’t help wondering how things might be different now if our leaders took the road of becoming “a normal country in a normal time” after the Cold War ended…

Best regards,

David Gonigam

Dave Gonigam
The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. That last fellow identifies himself as an “appreciative reader since 2016.”

As it happens, yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of The 5’s debut episode, penned by its founding editor and our firm’s fearless leader Addison Wiggin.

No matter how long you’ve been with us, we want to extend our appreciation for your continued readership. We couldn’t do it without you. And even if we could, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

And yes, there’s an element of fun to it for us, even at a time like this. To lose oneself in the process of researching and writing something that, hopefully, strikes a chord or touches a nerve — yes, even now, that’s fun for us.

For a long time we’ve felt The 5 has the most engaged and informed readership in the vast universe of daily financial e-letters. So thank you again for helping make it possible.

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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