Weekend Reading

These readings qualify for a new insurance rate.

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

Never in US history have so few companies held so much control over the meat industry. One hundred years ago, five meatpackers controlled between 75 percent and 82 percent of the market, prompting a wave of antitrust reforms that effectively broke up the meat cartels of old. By the 1960s, the top four beef packers controlled less than 30 percent of the market. But the lessons of the trust-busting era were eventually forgotten, and beginning in the ’80s a new way of thinking took hold. Federal regulators determined that the structure of the industry didn’t matter as much as the final price of the product; in other words, it was fine to consolidate as long as the companies could prove they were selling the final product for less. The big meat companies went on a merger-and-acquisition spree, buying up competitors while arguing that massive consolidation was the best path toward cheap meat.

Today, three companies control nearly 50 percent of the poultry market, four control 66 percent of the pork market, and four control 83 percent of the beef market. The consolidation makes it tough for shoppers to vote with their dollars. There may be a rainbow of brand names down the aisle, but if just two companies—say Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride—decide to adopt a company-wide practice, it will apply to 40 percent of chicken meat in the US. For consumers, these practices are often opaque. While 95 percent of Americans eat meat and poultry, few have heard of a chemical called peracetic acid, for instance, used to douse chicken carcasses as they go down the line at the slaughterhouse. The chemical bath is necessary because the birds live in a crowded barn on top of their own feces, and pathogens can follow them into the processing plant.

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