Food & Drink | August 4, 2020 11:37 am

Meat Production Is Actually Down for the Second Year in a Row

That said, one meat has seen its stock triple

cuts of beef
Are you eating less meat than you did 10 years ago?
Changyoung Koh/Unsplash

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global meat production will decline in 2020 for the second year in a row, and only the third year since 1961. Several factors have contributed to that three-percent reduction in per-capita meat consumption (which is the biggest drop since 2000), including the rise of the alternative meat industry and the spread of COVID-19.

For instance: Plant-based meat sales are up 264-percent this year, over half of Americans say they’d be open to giving up at least one type of meat (ushering in the age of the “flexatarian”), and meat production factories are still reeling from a rash of coronavirus cases, which left dozens dead and ignited a nationwide discussion on the facilities’ safety measures and treatment of workers.

Still, another reason meat production is slowing, according to Bloomberg Green, is a decline in demand for a specific type of meat: beef. From 1961 to 2018, beef has gone from 39 percent of total meat production to 20 percent as the world has reached “peak pasture” — the total global land area devoted to grazing cows (to be turned into beef) has declined for 20 years now, while personal beef consumption has trended down since the 1970s.

This is a huge boon for the environment. Beef production is the most resource-intensive of the meats. It contributes 10 times the emissions of pork or chicken production and requires significant land-use change (which leads to deforestation, which leads to wildfires). For those who’ve longed for the death of the beef cattle industry — from enraged environmentalists to those speculating on alternative meat stocks — this could be a significant turning point.

One thing to keep in mind, though: as beef production has gone down, chicken production has actually shot through the roof, and tripled in its share of total meat production. From a stone-faced, land-use perspective, this is a good thing. Chicken will soon pass pork as the globally preferred meat, and is raised in more efficient, confined areas. But that confinement makes for a miserable existence for the chickens to to be slaughtered, and the manner in which most of those chicken are usually consumed are is dubious and unsustainable.

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