Dhe history of modern factory farming is booming. Actually, it’s about time that cheap meat and animal welfare are emotionally discussed topics in public. Environmental movements and animal protection organizations repeatedly point out the frightening conditions of modern animal husbandry. Retail chains and social organizations, on the other hand, warn with rare unanimity that meat will become more expensive if something fundamental is changed in current factory farming practices.
So the topic contains explosives, and it is therefore all the more obvious to reach agreement on the historical roots of factory farming. After World War II, the way animals were raised, slaughtered, processed and their meat sold changed radically. As late as the 1950s, animals were driven into the cities, traded there and killed in slaughterhouses. Their meat was then sold at the butcher. Meat prices were a constant political issue and the daily consumption of meat was completely unthinkable for most families. Since then, however, things have changed, and this is what the two books by Veronika Settele and Karl Christian Führer deal with.
Führer is a renowned economic historian and has made a name for himself with various important works, for example on the history of housing speculation in the 1960s. In the “Meat of the Republic” he now provides a comprehensive look at the development of the entire meat value chain after the Second World War. It’s not just about rearing and slaughtering the animals, but also about selling them in the freezer section of the supermarket. What Führer convincingly shows: the mass production of meat was closely related to the development of mass markets. Not only did the citizens eat more and more meat, which was offered to them increasingly cheaply. The competition from retail chains, wholesalers and the resulting pressure on margins created permanent pressure on the farms to expand and to continuously rationalize the rearing and slaughtering of the animals.
Things you don’t really want to know
“Get big or get out”: Farmers in the United States heard this slogan constantly during the 1950s and 1960s. The same applied to West German agriculture, and here you can read about what that meant in detail: the municipal slaughterhouses gradually became meaningless and their task was taken over by mail-order slaughterhouses. The technical term for this was “dead marketing”: the animals were already dead and cut up and delivered to butchers, but above all to supermarkets. Since the 1970s, these have increasingly been selling the product packaged and labelled, which is why consumers no longer even have to go to the counter. As meat consumption rose and the product became cheaper and cheaper, animal husbandry developed into a real industry – with all the unsavory side effects that it still has today.