Approaching peak poultry and meat consumption

Meat consumption is positively associated with income. However, at a certain level (around US$40,000 GDP per capita), total meat consumption decreases with income. Photo: Koos Groenewold
Meat consumption is positively associated with income. However, at a certain level (around US$40,000 GDP per capita), total meat consumption decreases with income. Photo: Koos Groenewold

Meat consumption is increasing in many countries worldwide, although it seems that peak meat consumption has been reached in some. A recent study analysed 35 countries to determine where consumption is increasing and decreasing of all the major meat types consumed from 2000 to 2019, including poultry, of course.

Growing prosperity, disease outbreaks, natural disasters and consumer preferences are changing global meat consumption which, worldwide, has quadrupled since 1961. The growing human population has encouraged the expansion of livestock, with 80 billion animals slaughtered annually to produce 340 million tonnes of meat for human consumption, the report states. It is interesting to note that while meat consumption is positively associated with income, an earlier study of 120 countries identified that at a certain level of income per capita (around US$ 40,000 GDP per capita), total meat consumption decreases with income.

The environment, health and welfare

Climate change and environmental degradation continue to motivate people to reduce their meat consumption, while human health and animal welfare considerations have triggered rising levels of flexitarianism and more plant-based meat alternatives. The substitution of red meat by poultry is also evident, likely due to the perception that chicken is healthier, better for the environment and cheaper.

“Whilst eating is a personal choice, subject to access, availability and affordability, the implications for the common resources of land, air, water, biodiversity and climate, are proportionately greater than those of energy, transport, buildings and any other industry over a 20-year horizon. We hypothesised that this is inducing a shift towards less meat consumption,” noted the authors of the study, adding that the team searched for evidence of ‘peak meat’ – a point when consumption of animal meat peaks followed by a voluntary reduction in consumption.

Poultry main driver increased meat consumption

Annual estimates of the consumption of beef and veal, poultry, pork, and sheep or goat (in kg retail weight per capita, kg/cap) were downloaded for each year between 2000 and 2019 from the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook database (Table 1). Fish was excluded from this analysis. Poultry was found to be the main driver of increasing total meat consumption, while beef and lamb consumption generally decreased. These trends likely reflect consumer appetite and technological development.

Eating more meat

World meat consumption per capita increased between 2000 and 2019 (29.5 kg vs. 34.0 kg), by 0.34 kg/capita/year (SE 0.03, p<0.001). In 26 of the 35 countries studied, total meat consumption per capita increased significantly over time. The most substantial increases (around 2 kg/capita/year) were observed in countries with consumption levels below the 2000 world average, such as Russia, Vietnam and Peru. In South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia), which had relatively high consumption in 2000, annual increases by over 1 kg/capita were also observed (Table 2). Overall decreases in total meat consumption were seen in six countries, most notably, New Zealand (86.7 kg/capita in 2000 down to 75.2 kg/capita in 2019) and Paraguay (53.5 kg/capita in 2000 reduced to 39.5 kg/capita in 2019).

Poultry dominates meat consumption

World poultry consumption per capita was 14.8 kg in 2019, compared with 9.8 kg in 2000. Absolute poultry consumption per capita more than doubled in 13 countries. Of the 35 countries studied, a linear increasing trend was seen in 30 of them in per capita poultry consumption between 2000 and 2019.

In 15 countries, the increase was greater than 10 kg/capita, while it was greater than 20 kg/capita in Peru, Russia and Malaysia. A slight decrease in per capita poultry consumption was observed in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Paraguay, while no trend was observed in Israel and Thailand. In contrast to the declining proportional contribution of beef and pork to world total meat consumption, the contribution of poultry increased from 33% to 43.4% between 2000 and 2019.

Despite growing meat consumption in low and middle-income economies, disparities between countries remain. Some countries such as:

  • India and Ethiopia, consume less than 5 kg/capita/year because of affordability issues,
  • Australia and the US, consumption is as much as 100 kg/capita/year.
  • New Zealand, Canada, and Switzerland, vegetarianism has been on the rise, as a larger proportion of the population is now consciously decreasing meat consumption because of environmental and health concerns, challenging existing cultural values.

The improved availability of alternative proteins is also behind the reduction in meat consumption, as are issues such as animal welfare, ethics, concerns about the environment, the sustainability of food systems and health.

*This study was published in MDPI.

Natalie Berkhout Freelance journalist