Total U.S. red meat and poultry production are often cited as "record high," which is correct this year and last, and the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) forecasts that situation to persist through 2019. However, production numbers need to be in context, which is often not done. First, looking at the timeframe from 1960 through 2016 (56 years), 40 of those years set new all-time highs in U.S. red meat and poultry production. That is 71% of the year's set new highs; records are the typical situation, not abnormal.

The LMIC projects that among the U.S. red meats (beef, pork, lamb, and veal), only commercial production of pork will set a new all-time high this year (25.7 billion pounds on a carcass weight basis). Beef output in 2017 is expected to be about 26.2 billion pounds; that would be the largest for any year since 2010. U.S production of lamb in 2017 is forecast to erode to 143 million pounds, a new low. Commercial veal production is projected to be just over 79 million pounds, larger than 2016’s but the second lowest since the data have been compiled (1960). Overall, U.S. production of red meats will set a new high this year (about 52.1 billion pounds carcass weight), but the breakdown is important.

In the U.S. poultry complex (chicken and turkey), led by chicken, 2017's total output is projected to set a new all-time high (Federally Inspected output of 47.4 billion pounds). Turkey tonnage is expected to be slightly below a year ago.

Further insight is provided by calculating disappearance (sometimes called consumption) on a per person basis. Besides accounting for population growth, that calculation entails subtracting exported tonnage, adding imports, and adjusting for any year-over-year change in stocks (frozen product). Usually, disappearance is discussed as a retail weight (weight estimated at the meat counter in the grocery store). Retail weight per capita disappearance of total red meat and poultry in 2017 is projected to be the largest since 2008, not record large. LMIC projects this year’s U.S. per person beef disappearance will be the largest since 2012. For pork, due mostly to large export tonnage, per person disappearance in 2017 is expected to come in at slightly below 2016’s. Combined chicken and turkey disappearance (retail weight) in 2017 is likely to be slightly below a year ago (note that 2016 was record high).

Drilling down into the production numbers shows large supplies of most meats and poultry, but not unheard of levels. Looking at the retail weight per person story is important. It gives insight, among other things, to how exports have impacted domestic use.