From the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
"They use everything about the hog except the squeal", joked the guide. He was showing the wonders of the Chicago stockyards and packing plants to a group of Lithuanian immigrants at the start of this century. In The Jungle Upton Sinclair gives a graphic description of what that joke meant for those who worked in the appalling conditions of the packing plants, and also of what went into the cans:
. . . and if that were not enough, there was a trap in the pipe, where all the scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught, and every few days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!
The Jungle was published in 1906. Since that time there have been considerable improvements in the standards of public health and hygiene, and the exploitation of the working class appears less blatant. But it is still the same social system.
Government draft regulations for new minimum standards in the manufacture of meat products will come into force next year. Manufacturers will have discretion over the contents and labelling of a wider range of products. Consumer groups are concerned that the labelling on meat products should accurately represent the contents, and would prefer to give prior approval. They are hoping to influence the Ministry of Agriculture to improve its proposals before the final version of the new regulations is published. The proposals were in general welcomed only by the meat manufacturing industry. Among those expressing hostility were farmers worried that in future fewer pigs might be needed for the present output of pork products.
Advancing technology means that there is not much of an animal which cannot be used within a loose definition of "meat". "Crushed pigs' head are already used in some pork sausage manufacture, with only the teeth removed" (Guardian 13/4/82). A "meat product" is defined as any food consisting of "at least 10 per cent meat". A 3oz meat pie would have to contain at least 5/8 oz of meat but up to half of that "meat: could be fat or gristle.
What is the reason for new regulations? If the concern was how to remove the obscenity of starvation and malnutrition from the world, we would expect every method of producing and processing food to be examined. Should it then prove that ways to produce sufficient food would need to include grinding up all skin, bone and gristle from animals' carcasses and using a minimal amount in "meat" products—there would be nothing more to be said!
However the aim is not feeding hungry people.
The object of the Government, of course, is to enable meat products to be manufactured at prices that most people can easily afford. This is also true of the meat product makers, although they clearly also want to maximise their profits. (Guardian 13/4/82.)
Government interest is easily understood since the price of food is a major factor in pay claims (and in their ability to reduce unemployment benefit). Meat product makers would be unusual members of the capitalist class if they did not wish to maximise their profits.
Contrary to popular belief prices cannot be set at the whim of manufacturers. If it were so they would not need to worry about production costs. Concern for the contents and accurate labelling of meat products should be seen in the context of a social system where the motive for producing food, and every commodity, is sale and profit; where the choice of what anyone eats is qualified by what they can afford to pay. Food produced cheaply enough for "most people" to easily afford means that a privileged few have a different choice.