Global meat production and consumption curbed

A new United States report looks at how disease and drought have curbed global meat production and consumption, notes shifts in geographical areas of production, calls for lowering individual meat consumption and for meat production to be “reconnected to the land and its natural carrying capacity”.

Global meat production rose to 270 million tonnes (297 million short US tons) in 2011, an increase of 0.8 percent over 2010 levels, and is projected to reach 270 million tonnes (302 million tons) by the end of 2012, according to new research conducted by the Washington DC-based Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project ( for the Institute’s Vital Signs Online service.

In comparison, the report shows that meat production rose 2.6 percent in 2010 and has risen 20 percent since 2001. Record drought in the U.S. Midwest, animal disease outbreaks, and rising prices of livestock feed all contributed to 2011 and 2012’s lower rise in production, write report authors Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds.

Also bucking a decades-long trend, meat consumption decreased slightly worldwide in 2011, from 42.5 kilograms (kg) per person in 2010 to 42.3 kg, the authors note. Since 1995, however, per capita meat consumption has increased 15 percent overall; in developing countries, it increased 25 percent during this time, whereas in industrialised countries it increased just two percent. Although the disparity between meat consumption in developing and industrialised countries is shrinking, it remains high: the average person in a developing country ate 32.3 kg of meat in 2011, whereas in industrialised countries people ate 78.9 kg on average.

Pork was the most popular meat in 2011, accounting for 37 percent of both meat production and consumption, at 99 million tonnes (109 million tons), the report notes. This was followed closely by poultry meat, with 92 million tonnes (101 million tons) produced. Yet pork production decreased 0.8 percent from 2010, whereas poultry meat production rose three percent, making it likely that poultry will become the most-produced meat in the next few years.

The report also says that production of both beef and sheepmeat stagnated between 2010 and 2011, at 61 million and 12 million tonnes (67 million and 13 million tons), respectively

.A breakdown of meat production by geographic region reveals the dramatic shift in centres of production from industrialised to developing countries over the last decade. “In 2000, for example, North America led the world in beef production, at 12 million tonnes (13 million tons), while South America produced 11 million tonnes (12 million tons) and Asia 9.1 million tonnes (10 million tons). By 2011, North America had lowered its beef output by 180,000 tonnes (200,000 tons) and was overtaken by both South America and Asia, which produced 14 million  and 15 million tonnes (15 million and 17 million tons), respectively.”

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) puts the slowdown in growth in industrial countries to rising production costs, stagnating domestic meat consumption and competition from developing countries.

Widespread and intense drought in China, Russia, the US and the Horn of Africa contributed to lower meat production—-and higher prices—-in 2010 and 2011. The combination of high prices for meat products and outbreaks of new and recurring zoonotic diseases – those transmitted between animals and humans – in 2011 curtailed global meat consumption.  In 2011 alone, foot-and-mouth disease was detected in Paraguay, African swine fever in Russia, classical swine fever in Mexico, and avian influenza (H5N1) throughout Asia. According to a 2012 report by the International Livestock Research Institute, zoonoses cause around 2.7 million human deaths each year, and approximately 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases now originate in animals or animal products.

Many zoonotic disease outbreaks can be traced to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms. These systems now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide.

“Factory farming systems contribute to disease outbreaks in several ways,” says Danielle Nierenberg, report co-author and Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project director. “They keep animals in cramped and often unsanitary quarters, providing a breeding ground for diseases; they feed animals grain-heavy diets that lack the nutrients needed to fight off disease and illness; and many CAFOs feed animals antibiotics as a preventative rather than a therapeutic measure, causing the animals—-and the humans who consume them—-to develop resistance to antibiotics.”

But not all livestock are reared in industrial or mechanised environments. Nearly one billion people living on less than US$2 a day depend to some extent on livestock and many of these people are raising animals in the same ways that their ancestors did.

“Lowering individual meat consumption would alleviate the pressure to produce more and more meat for lower and lower prices, using rapidly dwindling natural resources,” say Nierenberg and Reynolds. “Reconnecting meat production to the land and its natural carrying capacity, as well as reducing meat consumption, can thus greatly improve both public and environmental health.”

Further highlights from the report:

  • Over the last decade, meat production grew nearly 26 percent in Asia, 28 percent in Africa and 32 percent in South America.
  • In 2012, drought and corn crop failures continue throughout the United States, causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to estimate that by 2013, beef will cost 4-5 percent more than in 2010, pork 2.5-3.5 percent more, and poultry 3-4 percent more.

A full copy of the report can be purchased here.


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