Friday, December 27, 2013

Paying More for Burgers

It’s interesting how news items often omit relevant information, expecting the readers to put it all together.  An example comes from the year-end news that beef prices are expected to rise in 2014 by 3 to 6 percent overall.

It goes on to focus on ground beef, which has risen 30% since 2010.  They give the opinion of one of the experts about future prices:  “After climbing 18 percent over a year ago, Zimmerman expects ground beef prices to rise as much as 10 percent next year.”  Hence, our burgers will cost even more and the price increase far outpaces ordinary inflation and expected pay raises.

With the costs increasing, people are eating less ground beef, but it still takes up a larger portion of their food budget.  One reason for its popularity is that it is versatile and easy to prepare.  With lower demand, the price increase must be tied to tighter supply.  Some of that can be attributed to the 2012 drought and pressure on corn prices from the diversion to alternative fuels, but is that the whole story?

What’s not mentioned is the commotion about 20 months ago when a television chef referred to finely textured beef filler as “pink slime,” a product that has been in the food supply for years with no ill effects, a product that reduces food waste and increases the beef supply.  That derogatory label and the power of Social Media drove many to join that movement to oppose its use in ground beef.  Grocery chains reacted to the pressure and changed procurement practices causing some producers to go out of business.  This public knee-jerk reaction to an unscientific and intentionally sensationalized “crusade” not only cost jobs, but now may have contributed to higher grocery prices for us all.

This is the meaning of societal behavior leading to societal consequences.  Much as some people may use conspiracy theories to place blame for unexpected price increases, the real reason behind the movements is the operation of supply and demand, and the reactions of a misinformed society often influence those factors.

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