The Continued Growth Of Meat Consumption
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) publishes global meat market reviews each year to inform the public about worldwide production, exports, and prices of different meat products. While the data aren’t geared toward animal advocates, the information in these reports can inform campaigns and advocacy strategies.
The FAO’s 2021 review highlights key trends in bird (including chickens and ducks), bovine (including cows and buffalos), pig,and ovine (sheep and goat) meat production and trade in 2020.
Some key findings include the following:
- Prices: Average global meat prices fell 4.5% in 2020 compared to 2019. The FAO attributes the decline to global economic downturns, supply bottlenecks, and import restrictions.
- Production: Overall production reached 337.2 tonnes in 2020, which is more or less similar to 2019. In general, increases in chicken meat offset decreases in bovine and pig meat.
- Exports: Global meat exports reached 38.7 million tonnes in 2020, up 6% from 2019. While 14 of the top 20 meat-importing countries recorded lower imports in 2020, the world’s largest meat exporters shipped more meat than they did the previous year. Much of this was due to demand in Asia, especially China.
The report also breaks down trends within each meat category:
Because of the relative affordability and short production cycles involved in this sector, bird meat production increased by around 1% to reach 133.3 million tonnes in 2020. Nevertheless, this was still the lowest growth recorded since 1960.
Most of the production growth occurred in China, the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, and the European Union. In the U.S., the sector benefited from the government’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, and exports increased due to China’s large demand under a recently-signed trade agreement. Even though European countries faced an outbreak of avian flu, production still increased, but at a slightly slower pace than previous years.
Regarding exports, bird meat trade remained stable from 2019 at around 14 million tonnes. Other exporting countries benefited from high purchases in Asia and the Middle East. Overall, global imports were driven by China, where consumers switched from pig meat (which increased in price as a result of the African Swine Flu outbreak).
Limited supplies and weak demand led to a fall in bovine meat production and trade. India’s production decline was the largest, followed by Australia, Brazil, the E.U., and South Africa. Reasons behind this fall included less animals available to slaughter, transportation restrictions and processing delays.
However, while trade volumes decreased, China and the U.S. imported more bovine meat in 2020 than in 2019 to meet a rising domestic demand. China also increased its production, partially thanks to government support and less environmental regulations.
Global pig meat production decreased slightly from 2019, mainly due to the outbreak of African Swine Flu in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. However, other producing countries registered growth due to government assistance, foreign demand, and high pig numbers.
Despite declines in production, trade increased 24.5% to reach 11.9 million tonnes in 2020. Again, this was largely due to Chinese imports, which almost doubled. The main exporters were the E.U., the U.S., Canada, and Brazil.
The report shows that global production rose only slightly from 2019, as Asia and Africa increased their production while Oceania and Europe decreased production.
Exports of sheep meat fell 6.5% in 2020, which the report attributes to the COVID-19 outbreak. Australia, a major exporter, decreased its trade by almost 13% compared to 2019 because of the virus as well as having limited animals available to kill, after excessive slaughtering the previous year.
Key Trend Spotlight
Because China influenced many of the trends in the report, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the country’s meat sector. China’s consumption of meat is a lot higher than any other country — approximately 89 million tonnes versus the next biggest consumer, the U.S., which consumes around 42 million tonnes. Because of this, the report highlights China’s increasing demand for meat as an important trend to follow.
Support from governments also features strongly in the report through trade agreements, subsidies, and other programmes to benefit the meat sector. Reforming animal agriculture subsidies remains an important issue for many animal advocates. It’s also important to note that the report measures meat in carcass weight and not individuals — if the FAO had measured it in individuals, in 2020 more individuals would have been killed than the previous year because bird meat production increased.
For animal advocates, it’s useful to learn about the links between prices, supply and demand, and imports and exports in the meat industry. Key topics missing from the report include the environmental impacts of meat and the ethical implications of farming sentient beings. Nevertheless, these statistics suggest which geographical regions are in urgent need of veg*n advocacy, and which animals we should be focusing on with our campaigns in the immediate future.