Turkey meat’s screwy pricing

Nov 26, 2015
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Turkey meat’s screwy pricing

Nov 26, 2015
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While Thanksgiving is a unifying holiday, the turkey itself divides us into two camps: lovers of dark meat and lovers of white meat.  

If you’re in the dark meat category, “you’re in the minority,” said Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon. “And we in the turkey industry appreciate your taste for dark meat cause it’s a product we wish we could sell more of.”

White meat is sold for domestic consumption, and dark meat is exported more.

But dark meat’s time has come. Maybe. For a minute.  

Because right now, the price of white meat is surging. “Turkey breast meat is now twice its normal level,” said Elam.

The price of dark meat, on the other hand, has fallen dramatically. 

“When you talk drumsticks, they were down anywhere from 40 to 46 percent,” said David Harvey, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The culprit behind these contradictory price movements? Bird Flu.

“Bird flu had two big impacts,” said Harvey. “One was the reduction in the quantity of birds available for sale.”

Fewer birds, less meat, higher prices. That explains the increase in white meat prices, but not the fall in dark meat prices. Bird Flu’s second impact: “a number of countries banned importation of U.S. poultry products,” said Harvey. 

Countries that normally buy our unwanted dark meat have now either banned or restricted its importation. The result is that tons of glorious dark meat stayed home, deliciously driving down the price.  

Incidentally, bird flu is not expected to affect the prices of Thanksgiving turkeys. Many of those turkeys were purchased and frozen in March or early 2015, before this year’s bird flu outbreak hit. It also, according to the National Turkey Federation, tended to hit barns that happened to be full of male turkeys.

Males, known as Toms, can reach 40 pounds and are used for breast meat, drumsticks, and processed meat for products like chorizo. Hens, on the other hand, are raised to be smaller  around 14–16 pounds — and are the usual source for Thanksgiving turkeys.

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