Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources | Vital Signs Online


Michael Renner

Global meat production rose to an estimated 308.5 million tons in 2013, an increase of 1.4 percent over 2012.1 The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts additional growth of 1.1 percent in 2014 to 311.8 million tons.2 Production is thus reaching new peaks, despite drought conditions in Australia and New Zealand and disease outbreaks in the United States and Eastern Europe.3 However, the annual rate of growth has slowed from 2.6 percent in 2010.4

Since 1961, the first year with comparable FAO data, production has expanded more than fourfold, responding to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets.5 (See Figure 1.) Looking back much further, meat production has grown 25-fold since 1800, outpacing human population growth by a factor of 3.6.6

Asia’s 131.5 million tons accounted for close to 43 percent of world output in 2013.7 Europe was second, with 58.5 million tons, followed by North America (47.2 million tons) and South America (39.9 million tons).8 Africa was a distant fifth, at 16.5 million tons, slightly above the combined production of Central America and Oceania.9