New stats from Worldwatch Institute show some moderately encouraging signs when it comes to global meat consumption and production.
Though the trend has been solidly towards more meat consumption per capita throughout the world—up on the whole 15% since 1995, 25% in the developing world—2011 saw a slight decrease in meat-eating.
Last year humans consumed, on the whole, 42.3 kilograms of meat per person, versus 42.5 kg in the previous year. That's of course an average figure which hides the start contrast between rich and poor nations. In wealthy nations meat consumption was on average 78.9 kg per person, versus 32.3 kg in developing nations.
Interestingly, accompanying the slight decrease in consumption was a slight rise in meat production. In 2011, 297 million tons of meat was produced globally, up 0.8% from 2010, with meat production this year on track to hit 302 million tons.
Nevertheless, last year's increase represents a slowing of growth in meat production, which grew 2.6% from 2009 to 2010, and has increased 20% since 2001.
Drought, Disease Have Reduced Production & Consumption
As for the reasons behind the slowdown in growth, Worldwatch cites drought in China, Russia, the United States, and the Horn of Africa leading to both lower rates of production and higher prices. Outbreaks of zoonotic disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease in Paraguay, African swine fever in Russia, swine fever in Mexico, and bird flu throughout Asia also contributed to lower meat production.
Some stark stats about these diseases: The International Livestock Research Inst. says that these diseases caused 2.7 million human deaths each year, with 75% of all emerging infectious diseases coming from animals or animal products.
Linked to that, another really horrific stat from Worldwatch: Factory farms (more technically and euphemistically, concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs) now account for 72% of poultry production globally, 43% of egg production, and 55% of pork production.
Worldwatch further breaks down meat production geographically and by animal type, noting shifts in both areas.
Pork is the World's Meat
Last year pork was the most popular meat consumed in the world, totaling 37% of all meat eaten and produced, some 109 million tons worldwide. Poultry was in second place, with 101 tons produced. The trend, however, is towards more poultry consumption, with the balance shifting, likely, this year.
In terms of which regions dominate production of different animals, the report notes that, for beef production, though North America was the leading beef producer a decade ago, both Asia and South America have now overtaken North America. In 2011, North American beef production stood at a bit under 13 million tons, with South America producing 15 million tons and Asia producing 17 million tons.
In fact, bucking all intuitive expectation, a separate report earlier this year showed that India is poised to become the world's largest exporter of beef—which, for the purposes of this stat, includes water buffalo meat and not just cow.
Animal Agriculture is Half of All Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The production of all that meat takes a much wider toll than just that of the millions and millions of animals killed, or the effect on human health from eating more meat-centric diets or from zoonotic diseases. It also plays a huge roll in increasing climate change.
A previous report from Worldwatch, dating to 2009, shows that 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to animal agriculture, in one way or another, directly and indirectly.