As Americans become more and more conscious about what they put into their bodies, it makes sense that the need for factory-farmed meat—which is as bad for your health as it is for the Earth—is not what it used to be. Many people are choosing to eat less meat or abstain entirely, causing demand to level off. Common sense says that trend would lead to factory farms tapering production—when people don’t want something, you don’t make a lot of it. Alas, as we already know, little about modern animal agriculture makes sense. Which is why we’re stuck with this latest bit of absurdity from the U.S. meat industry.
Put simply, despite the fact that people are eating significantly less chicken, the U.S.'s chicken inventory is up more than 13 percent since last year. Any other business that ignored consumers' desires would be forced to suffer the consequences of their negligence, but not chicken growers. The USDA, which already buys millions of dollars of meat per year for the school-lunch program, has agreed to purchase the extra $40 million worth of chicken in order to "provide support to the broiler industry," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In 2009, the government bought $60 million in surplus turkey.
One of the main reasons many people go vegetarian is to financially punish factory farms for their abhorrent practices. That the government would come in and save the meat producers when they refuse to submit to the demands of consumers is a blow to meat abstainers everywhere. Nobody is saying that the chicken should have gone to waste, and it's a good thing that the meat will now feed schoolchildren. But would it have been so bad to buy them $40 million in fresh vegetables instead?