Friday, April 6, 2012

Global Meat Production, 1961-2009

Total global meat production per person has steadily increased from 0.13 lbs per day in 1961 to 0.29 lbs per day in 2009*, a 120 percent increase over the last half century (currently in the US, average meat consumption is about half a pound per day).  Since meat consumption in the US and Europe has only increased modestly over time, this change mostly reflects greatly increased meat consumption over the last half century in developing countries** in Asia, Africa and South America.  In 1961, it's likely that most of the 0.13 pounds per day of meat was consumed in affluent countries such as the US, with not much consumed elsewhere (with some exceptions).  Historically, meat has always been expensive relative to other food sources in agricultural societies, so it's eaten by those who can afford it.

The trend has been driven mostly by large increases in poultry, pork and farmed fish, while beef has declined slightly.  I suspect the doubling of pork consumption is mostly driven by Asia, because pork is the meat of choice in much of Asia, and pork intake hasn't changed much in affluent nations.  As incomes have increased in much of Asia, and food system industrialization has driven down meat prices, per capita meat consumption has increased greatly, displacing grain/legume/tuber consumption as in many other parts of the world.  This trend has not yet run its course-- per capita meat consumption is still increasing in Asia.

I'm not trying to make any grand points about the meaning of these trends for human health.  Just posting the graph because I think it's interesting to understand diet trends over time. 

These data come from the Food and Agriculture Organization, via the Earth Policy Institute data center.

* These data don't include wild fish.

** I don't like the term "developing countries" very much because it strikes me as condescending, but I don't know what else to use.


Otto Rock said...

Emerging Markets (EMs) is the normal phrase these days

David Moss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Moss said...

How about Less Economically Developed Countries- since that is essentially the attribute which you want to refer to. It may be seen as similarly patronising insofar that it says they are *less* economically developed, but at least it specifies that they are only less *economically* developed. Fwiw, one of the central reasons why a lot of philosophers/political theorists objects to "developing" as a description, is that it implies that all other countries will follow the same path of economic development as Western countries (which, aside from being presumptious, is also taken to be negative, given that every country industrialising a la the West is, not only unsustainable, but actually materially impossible).


Actually, having seen that you're referring to Asia and South America among the "developing countries", you are probably more referring to the increased consumption of meat in the Newly Industrialised Countries (which isn't patronising at all).

Stephen said...

"Industrializing" might be a better term.

bongo said...

Maybe the point is to eat more sheep and goat because they either have not or can not bastardize the raising process like they do industrial pigs and chicken.

p.s. instead of "developing country" how about "debt ponzi peonage host"

gunther gatherer said...

LOL. I'm with Bongo.

A close second would be "Countries Whose Corrupt Leaders Are Willing To Sell All Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage and Enslave Their Citizens In Order To Make Our Ipads and Nikes".

Peter Niepel said...

Very interesting. I wonder if that puts the bad reputation beef production has in a different perspective.

Don S said...

Another fun source for data:

The average per capita meat consumption is 46.6 kg per person per year worldwide. In the United States we are at 122.79. Luxembourg beats us at 136.73, but we are just a bit under 3X more than the global average. More than twice as much as in China (which doubled between 1990 and 2002, yes mostly pork) or Russia and even 25% more than in Canada or Israel. Almost 50% more than in France, Germany or the UK.

I know this is a health blog, but the impact of meat production at this scale on the environment is HUGE. And that is health in a very way as well.

A sciAm article put it like this: "producing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles."

With the possible exceptions of sustainable fisheries and poultry, plant protein is just a much more efficient use of inputs and producer of fewer harmful outputs.

Sustaining the increasing per capita meat consumption and the increasing population is not going to be possible without causing massive hunger in many poorer parts of the world.

eastarledlight said...

Nice article,health is too important to people!support you!!

john said...

Great idea Don S! Let's do all the farming we can to push human population to the absolute max!

gunther gatherer said...

John's right.

Don, why would it be any better for the environment or the biosphere to encourage the addition of billions more humans on the planet, driving those 3,000-pound cars that you hate? This way we end up with even worse problems than we have now. Not to mention the widespread damage of all that industrial agriculture itself...

Gabriella Kadar said...

Gunther gatherer, until you gpt to the part about iPads and iphones, you could have been describing Canada.

If taxes would actually be perceived as producing a beneficial result for citizens, then tax away. But around here all forms of government are immune to prosecution when they literally throw taxpayers money around for billions of dollars of b*ll cookie. Meantime the rest of us are struggling along.

That's the spit in the face (or in your soup) of democracy: next time vote them out. Yeah sure. They are not accountable in any real way for what corrupt garbage they do while in office and we don't get refunds. Disgraceful. The next batch just ramp up the taxpayer rip off so it's a hell without end.

We don't have a real democracy anyway. I'm a fan of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Now he kicked ass and got things done right. The Germans are still benefitting from what he did.

I'm sure you were refering to China. But the question is: who could put enough pressure on the Chinese government that Bo Xilai was given the boot and his wife has been charged with the murder of a British businessman.

But that NPR show was based on fiction and theatre.

.....still trying to figure out how many pounds of meat I consume in a year.

Don S said...

john and gunther gatherer,

Are you saying that if we, as a species, use our resources increasingly less efficiently, such that there is not enough food to go around to the poorer of the planet and more risk of catastrophic climate change, then India, China, the other emerging economies, and those that are not now emerging and perhaps never will, will respond by decreasing their population growth, halt improvements in healthcare that have extended lifetimes and decreased infant mortality, and so on, such that the predicted 9 billion won't happen?

Or just that enough will starve or die in wars over resources, including many experts predict, fresh water, that the large population will "self-correct?"

gunther gatherer said...

Don, I'm saying that population growth is happening regardless, and is outpacing our resources at a dangerous rate.

Are we going to actually confront the population problem or should we delude ourselves into thinking we can have it all (9 billion people, all with cars, iPads, clothes, food, healthcare, air conditioning and modern amenities) simply by becoming vegetarian?

Do you really think your solution is the honest and responsible one?

Don S said...


Please note: I am not promoting vegetarianism and am an omnivore myself. I am merely noting that the increasing world global meat production has significant planetary health consequences. The switch of huge populations from low meat consumption towards even half of what Americans typically eat (which is what drives the per capita increase part of the equation) strains the capacity of the planet. I did not prescribe a solution and have no problem with looking at the population growth side of the equation.

Population growth is driven by people living longer in parts of the world that used have more die young, and fewer child deaths during birth or in early childhood. Globally birth rates have actually been dropping, from 22/1000 in 2000 to 19/1000 in 2011 That substantial decline (which causes its own problems for many industrialized nations) is not however enough to offset the fact that so many more are surviving longer.

What do you propose we do about that?

I propose we think about how to feed them all with as little damage to the planet as possible, even if we in America will likely be able to afford to eat however much we want of whatever we want no matter what.

Pretending that we can sustain increasing global meat production (with the possible exception of poultry) without serious consequences would, OTOH, be neither honest or responsible.

Don S said...

Oh. If you are interested in details about population growth, you may find this of good read.

Please note, decreasing fertility rates have resulted in a slowing down of population growth rate, from more than 2% a year to 1.5% a year and "experts expect this trend to continue, so that by the end of this century the world’s population will stabilize at 9 to 10 billion people. But in the meantime, in absolute numbers it is still growing faster than ever before—by about 230,000 people a day."

gunther gatherer said...

Don, anyone promoting heavy agriculture to "do away with the evils of meat production" has no idea what agriculture is or the enormous environmental damage it entails.

Have you ever started a farm? It means killing every single tree, shrub, animal, insect and even bacteria so you can grow one crop and one crop only. Then you have to reroute local water sources in order to even get the thing to grow at all. Doing this creates enormous damage by ruining topsoil and causing rivers to run dry. It also removes the roots and trees that held the soil together in the first place, resulting in massive erosion and washout of fertile soils.

Throw in the thousands of gallons of oil you need to produce and ship petroleum-based fertilizers to your farm, then to produce and bring in pesticides and herbicides which further harm the natural environment, then to harvest, haul and ship out your food to people who need it, and you've got one hell of a greenhouse-producing system there. And to make the farm in the first place, you killed all the natural flora there that used to be a "sink" for the atmospheric carbon causing global warming.

If you think that's somehow a solution, I suggest you get out of the city and check out what agriculture has done to the former Fertile Crescent, the Brazilian Rainforests, etc.

Maybe ask an indigenous person how much local farmers have stolen their water, cut down their habitats and destroyed their way of life and killed off their game and finally their people. And this is only discussing humans, never mind how agriculture has affected animal habitats worldover.

Pick up Lierre Keith's "The Vegetarian Myth". Agriculture is the cause of global warming, not cows. If anything there are less animals alive today than ever were, and that's because farming stole their homes.

Don S said...

gunther gatherer

Sorry if this comes off snarky, but I am not sure that you understand how meat is produced today. Beef production uses lots and lots of grain. Across the world pasture feeding is accomplished by clearing forest to create grazing areas (about 20% of the Amazonian rainforest has been cleared, both legally and illegally, for that purpose,with the beef so grown often exported to EU markets), overgrazing has led to desertification of many pasture areas, and pig production in China has resulted in major pollution problems and a reliance on massive grain imports to feed them.

Most of the world is not eating hunted meat, nor would such a source sustain this level of global demand. Relatively little meat is produced exclusively on sustainable pastures. What you (not I) refer to as "the evils of meat production" requires significantly heavier agriculture to produce the same amount of quality protein than would raising plant product for human consumption or for that matter raising poultry.

These are just "the facts on the ground." What do you think would be a rational response to them?

gunther gatherer said...


No one is saying that industrially-raised animals are the answer. I am very familiar with the way meat is produced today and I think grain and soy raising for cows contributes to greenhouse emissions. Not to mention I'm really against the general horrors of industrial meat production.

But blaming meat for the problem is too simplistic. This is a trap that many city-raised vegetarians fall into when they search for easy answers to modern day problems. They think if we simply switch to vegetables for our sustenance, somehow global warming, overpopulation and world hunger will be resolved in one swoop. I know you're not a vegetarian, but you are arguing like them here.

We do have choices as consumers that can help the situation, without condemning anyone to never eat meat again: the first and best one is to commit to eating only pasture-raised meat and dairy products. They are a bit more expensive, but if you really care as much as you say about world problems, this is a much more effective way of helping out than eating supermarket vegetables and telling your neighbor to do the same. This additionally helps local farmers who are committed to sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly ranching.

The second, and far more impactful solution is stopping rampant and unbridled industry from widespread mining, dumping, damming, clearcutting and logging operations which destroy our planet's carbon "sink". This requires political will from leaders who unfortunately all come from the business class and will never allow it. The system itself has big business "baked into it", so the only real way to achieve change is to create awareness among people on a local level so they kick these bums out of office. I would love it if we could have a real viable Green Party whose first mission was to save the environment by shackling big biz.

On the population front, every country has to look responsibly at its population levels and control them according to LOCAL resources, not foreign and imported ones. This is where far too much petroleum is spent. And when I say "control" its population, I mean educate everyone on family planning and abortion and contraception, free clinics and free condoms, day-after pills, etc. and monitor accordingly. And not to artificially depress food or give tax bonuses to farmers or certain importers. This is tantamount to lying to your people about what your country really has.

The main reason population control is not discussed in any major media is because the more people there are, the more stuff businesses can sell. If you sold iPads, wouldn't you want more people in the world as opposed to less? That's more potential buyers. We will never be able to discuss this until we get these business shill cowards out of office and start to look honestly at what is IN OUR LOCAL VICINITY to eat and use, not what is in Ghana or Costa Rica to mine, etc.

We need leaders who have the courage and maturity to say "no, you can't have that" to their people sometimes, for the greater good.

In short, I feel this is a political issue and you can do a bit as a consumer to help, but the real solutions are not going to come until we rein in capitalism.

Don S said...

Agreed on several points.

1) Vegetarianism is not a viable answer.
2) For those who can afford it, pasture raised and finished beef has less harmful impact (although I have heard some debate that point). Game meats, specifically venison harvested in such a manner as to reduce deer overpopulation which significantly degrades the health of many forests, is better yet. Fish from sustainable stocks are also a great means from this POV. Chicken and turkeys are amazing protein factories. (So long as one doesn't have too many qualms about how they are raised.)
3) A variety of means to reduce the degradation of carbon sinks is desirable.
4) Education about birth control, heck education in general (which correlates with decreased fertility rates) is a good thing. Access to such services is a good thing.

OTOH, the rapid increase in world meat demand IS a problem, one that results in a loss of those carbon sinks, one that gives less nutrition out per input and harmful output than a diet less focused on meat/dairy and more plant protein heavy. Slowing that increase down will require BOTH the sigma outlier carnivores (the US more than any country other than Luxembourg, even after recent decreases in America's per capita meat consumption over the past decade) coming a bit closer to the mean, and hoping that the emerging economies don't imitate our habits too much. Given that even India is increasing its meat consumption, I fear there is little hope for the latter.

Exclusively sustainable pasture raised and hunted meat is no more a realistic option for feeding most of the world than is vegetarianism. (Which does not mean that it is not a viable option for you or me as individuals.)

On the population front , fertility rates ARE decreasing significantly already. Just not enough to offset more people living longer. Family planning will not prevent the world from reaching that 9 billion mark or above.

There are other things we can do too. Some experts have figured that we can significantly increase our efficiencies just by decreasing waste in the processing stream, strategic use of fertilizers (currently often either too much or too little), restricting livestock feed production to more marginal lands, and so on. (see here ) but we cannot ethically ignore the strain that this level of increased meat production places on the system.

Do those like reasonable enough statements to you?

Peter Niepel said...

This is a wonderful discussion. I started to write a comment a while ago but then got distracted. Most of the points I wanted to bring across have now been raise by others.
I live in New Zealand. We do not have such things like CAFOs and grain fed beef. All our beef is pasture raised. Why? Because we do not have a subsidised corn production which over produces and the government doesn't have to find a way to use this subsidised corn somewhere. This in my eyes is the beginning of the problem. Get rid of the subsidies and you get rid of the cheap animal food (and some other issues like mono culture on the way, too)
The other issue I have with discussions if vegetarianism can save the world is that they always compare unsustainable meat production with sustainable plant production. You have to compare apples with apples, sustainable meat production with sustainable plant production and unsustainable meat production with unsustainable mono-cultured plant production. Other wise the picture is distorted n one or the other way.
A brilliant book on this topic is "The end of food" by Paul Roberts. He looks at what makes our food production unsustainable. It is mostly the oil consumption, land use and soil destruction.

gunther gatherer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gunther gatherer said...

Don, I agree with just about all your statements.

The only one I can't accept is the idea of making the whole world turn to vegetarianism just because irresponsible leaders (with big business' support) encourage and entice their citizens to have as many children as they can, all while promoting the idea that everyone's going to have it all for eternity. The problem lies there for me.

Why do they give tax breaks and bonuses for families with children? Why do they artificially depress the price of food? Why do they continually promise jobs, food and security for everyone, as if this could go on forever? Why can't we see what the ecology is REALLY like in our local communities, what local things we can eat which don't have to come from thousands of miles away. Why are we promised everything? It's just enormously irresponsible.

So with all these policy problems and corruption, why should meat be the first thing to attack and remove? There are so many thousands of unnecessary wasteful, toxic and ridiculous goods and materials we could take out first to save the environment. What about PVC, dioxin and a million other unnecessary chemicals that no one wants in the first place? Removing those could save us years of oil reserves right there, not to mention reduce carbon emissions.

I think rejecting this wasteful system, these corrupt leaders and the capitalist model in general will go a lot farther towards changing our environmental situation than taking out steak.

Of course, it's just my opinion, but I don't feel like sacrificing my health just to let those fools in office off the hook. They should be taking the first step. Let's cut ourselves some slack and put the blame where it belongs, I say.

eyecandy_babydoll said...

You guys forget that much of the land in developing countries (particularly those in Africa) are arid and aren't fertile enough to suit agriculture without heavy use of artificial fertilizers and scarce water resources.

These types of conditions WOULD suit grazing animals who can feed off nutrient-poor grasses and shrubs, and provide meat, milk and beasts of burden for people.

Don S said...

Unfortunately grazing in anything other than the nomadic pastoralist (low yield) approach, causes more desertification in Africa than does even over-farming of marginal land. See

"More than one-third of Africa is at present under threat of desertification (see map). On the southern edge of the Sahara some 650000 km2 of once productive land - an area the size of Somalia - have become desert over the past 50 years. An estimated 50000 to 70 000 km2 go out of production every year. These changes are worsened by periodic droughts but not caused by them; it is the mismanagement of the land itself that is causing desertification.

Over-grazing is one of the principal causes of desertification. As livestock numbers have increased, vegetation has been stripped from rangelands, and the pounding hooves of hungry animals have turned the exposed soil to dust. A 1986 FAO study estimated that the number of livestock in the Sudano-Sahelian zone increased by 76 percent between 1963 and 1983; the area now contains some 160 million cattle, sheep, goats, horses and camels.

The threat of desertification

Over-grazing also changes the composition of plants in the rangelands. Useless and mildly poisonous plants such as Calotropis procera now infest vast areas of the Sudano-Sahelian belt because they no longer have competition from the nutritious grasses that used to make up the bulk of pasture plants."