Our new studyWe investigated whether income increases correlate with a rise in meat consumption. We specifically tested if there’s a point at which improvements in GDP per capita are no longer associated with greater meat consumption. In other words, when is the peak in meat consumption in a world with increasing GDP?
After analysing data for 35 nations, we identified a tipping point of around US$40,000 (A$57,000), in GDP per capita. Six of the 35 countries had reached this point, while other countries were on an increasing trend.
Globally, each person consumed 4.5 kg more meat in 2019 than 2000. While we can’t say what’s behind the general choice to eat more meat, our study identifies some insightful trends.
The problem with meat
Land clearing, including deforestation to create more pasture or feed livestock, is one of the main causes of meat production’s emissions.
Human settlements occupy, to put it in perspective only 1% of the planet’s landmass, while livestock grazing and feed production use 27%. This compares to the 7% that is used for crop production for human consumption and the 26% that is occupied by forests.
A recent UK study has shown that a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-based diet. 59% less emissionsIt is more than a non-vegetarian diet. Interestingly, the study found that men eat 41% more animal-based products than women in the UK, which is why they have 41% more carbon emissions.
Despite the growing evidence and awareness of the climate impact of our diets, we found the average amount of meat – beef, poultry, pork and sheep – a person ate each year increased from 29.5kg in 2000 to 34kg in 2019.
Poultry is the most preferred option (14.7kg), followed closely by pork (11.1kg), beef (6.4kg).
Poultry on a rise
Nearly all of the countries studied (30 from 35) experienced an increase in poultry consumption per capita between 2000 and 2019. It doubled in 13 countries. More than 20kg were consumed each year in Russia, Peru, and Malaysia.
In addition to the poultry industry’s long-term focus on creating cheap and convenient food, many western consumers are now replacing beef with poultry. Its smaller environmental footprint may be one reason chickens are more sustainable than cattle.
However, this comes with a cost. It exposes Australia and the rest of the world to new viruses. such as the bird fluThis can lead to antibiotic resistance in farm animals and an overuse of antibiotics. This could lead antimicrobial resistant to developing and the loss of antibioticsTo treat bacterial infections in humans.
Industrial farming has added additional pressures. Animals are now raised in industrial farms in confined spaces where they’re easily exposed to pathogens, viruses and stress, making them more prone to disease.
We have seen similar impacts in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork. Our analysis showed significant dietary changes, such as when pork consumption plummeted in 2007 after prices rose by more than 50% following SARS and swine influenza outbreaks in humans. at the time.
Which countries have reached peak production of meat?
The average increase in meat consumption around the globe is a good sign, but a closer examination of individual countries shows a more complex story.
26 of the 35 countries we looked at had a clear correlation in GDP growth and meat consumption. The remaining nine countries had no correlation while six of them reached a peak in meat consumption: New Zealand (Canada), Paraguay (Nigeria), Switzerland (Paraguay), Ethiopia (Ethiopia). Both sides of the economic wealth spectrum are responsible for this.
As the health and environmental benefits of plant-based foods become more widely known, it is possible that the three western countries have seen a decrease in meat consumption. New Zealanders have seen a decrease in their meat consumption, from 86.7kg in 2000 down to 75.2kg by 2019.
For the remaining three countries, reaching the peak probably wasn’t voluntary, but related to economic downturn, weather calamities and virus outbreaks. Paraguay is an example. an outbreakCattle were killed as a result of foot-and-mouth disease in 2011.
Australia continues to be one of the world’s top meat-eating countries, with an annual consumption of 89.6kg per capita in 2019, up from 88.2kg per capita in 2000. The majority of this was poultry.
Extreme weather events can make outdoor livestock extremely vulnerable, including droughts, heat waves, and floods. This is one reason the share of beef in Australia’s meat exports decreased by 15%This is due to the extreme weather and drought of 2019. In relative terms, Australia’s beef consumption is still high.
Climate talks left meat out
Consumption of meat was large left out of the debatesAt the international summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland last month. This is a blatant omission in our study.
Food choices are personal. However, it should be made in an informed manner. Climate warriors like Greta Thunberg need to be aware of the climate, environmental, health, and welfare implications of food choices. Policy leaders also need to be aware.
Two positive developments occurred at the climate summit: The agreement to put an end to carbon emissions and stop to deforestation(Australia was also a part of the agreement) and the collective pledges to lower the levels of methane(Australia did not join).
Transparency is required in determining the relationships between livestock and deforestation, as well as between methane emissions from livestock and deforestation. It will be difficult for people to shift to plant-based foods if they don’t know the relationships between deforestation and livestock.
Change could begin with the food we eat this holiday season.