Global consumption outpacing population growth

December 09, 2012


Meat: It's something that people around the world take for granted--but maybe not for much longer.

Demand for meat is increasing worldwide. One reason is the burgeoning global population, which is forecast to reach 9.3 billion in 2050.

But that is not the only factor.

As per capita income increases in line with economic development, lifestyles and eating habits also change.

There are more people living in cities, and the spread of the food service industry, including fast food chains, has led to more regular consumption of meat.

Looking back on the period from 1961 to today, the world's population has more than doubled from around 3 billion to 7 billion, while the volume of meat consumed annually has quadrupled from 70 million tons to just under 300 million tons. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization asserts that the production of food, including meat, must be increased by 60 percent by 2050 in order to meet the dietary needs of the planet's human population.

At present, the world's consumption of meat is divided among pork, poultry and beef at a ratio of 4-3-2, and demand is growing at the most rapid rate for poultry. It offers the greatest efficiency in terms of weight gain of livestock with regards to the amount of feed given, and the shortest breeding time.

Raising livestock requires vast amounts of grains for food. For example, it is said to take 11 kilograms of grain feed to produce 1 kilogram of beef, compared to 7 kilograms for pork and 4 kilograms for poultry. In the future, the degree to which meat production can be increased will be directly linked to the degree to which the production of corn and other basic ingredients used to make livestock feed can be increased.


What kinds of meat are the most popular in different countries around the world? By creating a "meat map" based on FAO data on 170 countries, we can gain a glimpse of eating habits in various nations.

According to statistics from 2009, global meat consumption can be ranked in the following order: pork, poultry, beef and mutton.

Pork consumption is particularly prominent in Europe. Pigs are valued so much that it is said, "the only thing worth throwing away is their oinking." Ham and pork-based sausages are thought to have originated in Europe. Five European countries have the greatest annual per capita consumption of pork in the world: Austria tops the list at 65.6 kilograms, followed by Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Spain.

After Europe, the next greatest eaters of pork are found in Asia. Pigs have long been highly regarded in Eastern Asia, where their dung is used as an agricultural fertilizer. There are also countries with Islamic populations, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where poultry occupies a more central position than pork in the national diet.

Islam views pigs as impure beasts and the consumption of pork is zero in Northern African nations and the Middle East, with the exception of Israel and Lebanon. In contrast, poultry is popular. This is also the case in Central and South America, apart from beef-producing powerhouses such as Brazil and Argentina. The United States, however, is rather surprising. Despite its image as a beef-loving country, the quantity of poultry Americans consumes is actually greater.

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with regard to poultry, the volume of chicken consumed globally rose 37 percent in the 10 years from 2002. In the same period, pork consumption only increased by 15 percent and beef by 3 percent, making the growing popularity of chicken all the more remarkable.

So then, in which countries is beef the most favored?

Some obvious examples are former Soviet nations with vast pastures, such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Argentina boasts the world's largest per capita consumption of beef at 54 kilograms. It is not uncommon for an adult Argentine male to tuck away 500 grams of meat in a single sitting.

Even so, global consumption of beef peaked in 2007, and has continued to trend downward in recent years. This is particularly pronounced in developed nations such as the United States, France and Australia. In Russia, the most popular meat shifted from beef to poultry over a 10-year period through to 2009. The same applies to China, where beef consumption peaked in 2008, and has continued to decline in the past few years.

"Worsening economic conditions have fostered a frugal mind-set, and consumers are beginning to turn to cheap meats," says Nourinchukin Research Institute chief researcher Akihiko Hirasawa. "Coupled with greater health consciousness, there is a progressive shift toward poultry because of its low fat content."

Nevertheless, the FAO sees this as a temporary decline. Beef consumption is expanding primarily in developing countries at a greater pace than it is declining in developed nations, and the FAO predicts that it will rise to around 73 million tons in the year 2020, a 15 percent increase compared to the 2009 figure.

Mutton is most popular in countries where nomadic tribes live, such as Mongolia, Tajikisan and Syria. In Mongolia, famous for its barbecue, mutton consumption per capita is 49 kilograms, which puts it far ahead of the rest of the world.


Chinese-style steamed buns filled with minced pork are called "nikuman" (meat buns) in the greater Tokyo area, and "butaman" (pork buns) in the western Kansai region. This is because the word "meat" was traditionally associated with beef in the western Kansai area.

Looking at a regional breakdown of the volume of beef purchased per household according to a 2011 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of family income and expenditures, the Kinki region came on top with 9.7 kilograms, followed by the Chugoku, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa regions. In the Kanto region, the figure was only 5.8 kilograms.

This difference in consumption is said to be related to agricultural culture.

It was only during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) when Western culture entered Japan that cattle traditionally used for plowing and conveyance were slaughtered for meat.

"Eastern Japan had large tracts of cultivated land, and fast horses were regarded as ideal for farming," says Akira Miyazaki, president of Kyoto College of Arts and Crafts and a beef culture expert. "In western Japan where arable land was in shorter supply, the most common livestock was cattle. Perhaps the custom of consuming them when the animals get older still has an influence today."

Pork is more popular in eastern Japan than in western Japan. Records show that numerous pig farms already existed in the greater Tokyo area in the Meiji Period. The amount of pork purchased per household west of the Tokai region is around 14 to 18 kilograms, whereas it exceeds 20 kilograms in the Hokuriku, Kanto, Tohoku and Hokkaido regions.

Even national totals suggest that the most familiar meat on Japanese dinner tables is pork. It comprises around 50 percent of all meat purchased in Japan annually, followed by poultry at 30 percent, while beef accounts for 20 percent.

Pork consumption already exceeds that of beef in western Japan.

Looking at data from Japan's prefectural capitals, apart from Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, Yamaguchi, and Tokushima where poultry is king, pork is the most consumed meat in the remaining 42 prefectures.

However, for a time after World War II, beef was the most common meat in Japan. With the invention of the tractor and improvements in chemical fertilizers, cattle that were once used to cultivate land were sold for human consumption and beef became cheaper than pork and poultry. After this trend ran its course, the price of beef began to rise, and in 1965 purchases of pork exceeded those of beef. Two years later, it switched places with poultry and became the third most purchased meat.

Even so, when looking at consumer spending on meat on a value basis, there are many prefectures in western Japan where beef occupies the top position, which represents a distinct difference with eastern Japan where expenditure on pork is greater.

The only exception in eastern Japan is Yamagata Prefecture. The northern Japanese folk dish of "imoni" (thick potato and meat soup) is flavored with miso and contains pork in prefectures such as Miyagi and Fukushima, but the version found in Yamagata mostly uses beef and soy sauce, similar to sukiyaki.

(This article was written by Mizuho Kajiwara and Etsushi Tsuru)

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(Photo: Hiroyuki Kodera)

(Photo: Hiroyuki Kodera)

  • (Photo: Hiroyuki Kodera)

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