Thursday, May 15, 2008

Meat Prices On The Rise

Food prices are reaching record highs as the summer “Grilling Season” hits full throttle on Memorial Day. Meat prices are stable now but will increase by Thanksgiving or Christmas, say University of Georgia economists.

From March to April, U.S. food prices increased almost 1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic Consumer Price Index. This is the largest one-month jump in 18 years. If the rate continues, food next year will cost 12 percent more than food today, said John McKissick, an economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Meat prices overall haven’t changed much recently, he said. But they will by the end of the year. More of the nation’s corn crop is being used to make ethanol. This leaves less corn to feed animals, making it more expensive. Livestock producers are starting to cut production because of it.

“Right now, we are not really feeling the impact in the meat market of these high feed prices. Prices we are seeing now are reflections of the decisions made last year,” McKissick said.

The price of cheaper cuts of meat is increasing because the demand for them is also increasing. The demand for choice steaks is decreasing, driving down their prices.

“What we see is people will trade down, people will quit buying rib-eyes, but will buy sirloin. They have a grocery budget and a certain amount they are willing to spend on beef,” said Curt Lacy, a livestock economist with the UGA Cooperative Extension Service. “People will trade steak for ground beef or steak for roast.”

Ground chuck has increased 20 cents per pound over the last year, while choice boneless steaks have decreased eight cents per pound. Pork prices are also down. Ham is 13 cents cheaper per pound. Pork chops are a penny cheaper per pound than they were last year, according to Lacy.

Chicken prices have increased 10 cents per pound regardless of the cut. Due to the structure of the industry and short life-cycle of chickens, consumers can expect chicken prices to go even higher in August as producers adjust to rising feed costs, McKissick said.

Pork producers increased production last year due to several years of good profits, but now they are cutting back, too.

“We have to cut back in the animal industry,” McKissick said. “There will be less meat for consumers to eat and it will be at higher prices.”

Consumers can look for sales and buy now, freeze and eat the meat later, said Elizabeth Andress, food safety expert with the UGA Cooperative Extension Service.

“Most meats and poultry, for best quality, keep three to four months in the freezer, although some raw meat roasts and cuts may last up to a year if packaged and stored correctly,” she said. “Hams have a much shorter shelf life and some types are limited to one to two months in the freezer.”

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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