The early beginnings of meat marketing might have coincided with the first settlements of mankind and the development of different trades and professions. Since then, meat has developed into a valuable commodity in many countries. Fresh meat is a highly perishable good and therefore prone to spoilage and must be treated with utmost care for consumer protection. Meat must be produced, transported, stored and marketed under hygienic conditions.
Often fresh or frozen meat is shipped from one region around the globe to markets with higher demands. Industrial meat processors, when faced with a shortage of raw meat materials, are able to import large quantities of frozen meat trimmings from around the world for further processing. It might well be that a canned meat product found on a supermarket shelf in Africa contains buffalo meat from Asia, pork from Europe and beef from South America.
In industrialized countries fresh meat is mostly generated in modern slaughter facilities and an uninterrupted cold chain is applied during cutting, transportation and marketing. Meat inspection and quality control procedures are put in place and implementation is monitored by Government authorities. Depending on the location, basically two different marketing systems can be observed:
In rural settings of industrialized countries, the whole meat marketing chain is often covered by traditional butcheries selling fresh meat produced in the immediate surroundings, thus avoiding long supply chains. Butchers have direct contacts to the smallholder livestock producers and provide fresh meat and specialized meat cuts to their customers. Having their own slaughter, cutting, processing and sales facilities ensures the freshness and traceability of the meat offered. The responsible local authorities monitor the introduced meat hygiene and safety regulations.
In urban centres and industrial areas, the number of small butcheries selling their own produce directly to consumers decreased substantially over the last decades. With growing populations and increasing demands for meat, better suited marketing systems were needed. Modern supermarket outlets took on this role. Such high volume meat production and trade require stringent quality control systems to avoid health hazards for the consumers. Due to the distance from livestock producing areas and resulting longer supply chains for the meat, freshness and traceability present a challenge for all parties involved in the marketing chain. The development and subsequent introduction of stringent quality control systems and efficient traceability mechanisms was a logical consequence.
In some countries where a fast industrialization process took place joined by a concentration of urban population and the development of mega cities, serious problems in food supply emerged. Due to prevailing consumer preferences, fresh meat is often still sold in traditional wet markets, but must be transported from far outside the cities without adequate infrastructure. As a result, serious health hazards for consumers can emerge. In recent years, supermarkets are emerging in such areas, but prices may be higher and meat is often not affordable to lower income groups.
In developing countries with predominantly agricultural based economies, fresh meat is still mainly distributed through traditional wet markets or simple meat stalls. These wet markets and meat stalls are often attached to slaughter places or in the proximity of rural slaughter facilities. In the absence of functional cold chains, fresh meat is purchased in the early morning and cooked and consumed the same day. Meat inspection regulations are put in place by local authorities to facilitate the supply of safe and wholesome meat to consumers, but implementation and monitoring still varies widely.
In all above mentioned cases, strict regulations on meat hygiene and safety must be applied. In order to facilitate the efforts of Governments and regional and international authorities, FAO and WHO have established the Codex Alimentarius. The various codes are frequently updated and availed to authorities as guidelines for the establishment of appropriate food safety regulations.