Meat Consumption And Income: A Global Review
Over the past 50 years, overall meat consumption levels around the globe have steadily risen. Consumption patterns within and between countries, however, have shifted dramatically. Historically, the following trend has been observed: as a country develops and its gross domestic product (GDP) increases, meat consumption levels also increase because people can afford to buy more meat products.
But once the GDP reaches a certain level, meat consumption levels begin to flatten and then decrease as consumers become aware of how eating (and especially over-eating) meat can negatively impact their health and the environment. This paper, published in ScienceDirect, provides empirical evidence of this trend. The data serves as both a starting point for additional research and as a resource for policy makers developing strategies to curb global meat consumption.
The study authors analyzed meat consumption data and the GDP for 120 countries between the years 1970 and 2007. They also looked at various cultural and religious variables that could impact meat consumption. Results of a regression analysis confirmed the aforementioned trend: a country’s GDP and meat consumption increase concurrently, but only up to a certain point, after which income continues to increase and meat consumption declines.
Importantly, a “turning point” occurs when the income level at which meat consumption begins to decline continues to increase. Depending on the specification used, the turning point in income is between $32,000 and $55,000 GDP per capita. The authors point out that while evidence of an eventual decline in meat consumption is a positive sign, most developing countries “will only reach the turning point in the very long run.”
Analysis of religious and cultural variables also showed that higher numbers of Christians in a country corresponds with higher meat consumption, while countries adhering to Eastern religions consume significantly less meat. Results also showed a possible positive correlation between meat consumption and a cultural masculinity index and a possible negative correlation between meat consumption and levels of inequality within a society.
In conclusion, the authors state that policymakers and advocates should not be deterred from taking action to reduce meat consumption just because many countries are still far from a turning point. They even suggest that the influences of culture, religion, and awareness of how consuming meat can negatively impact the environment, one’s health, and animal welfare could “lead to a situation in which these countries will never reach a per capita meat consumption as the more developed countries in our dataset.”
They recommend that governments, particularly those in emerging countries, take action to accelerate a decline in meat consumption by “using economic instruments (e.g., meat tax), by social instruments (e.g., educational campaigns) or by legal instruments” such as Mandatory Vegetarian Days that have been proposed in Finland.