Meat and Animal Feed

Over the past 50 years, global meat consumption has quadrupled from 70 million tonnes in 1961 to a current total of 283 million tonnes per year.
The IAASTD predicts that this trend will continue if meat consumption remains at existing high levels in industrialised countries, and the growing urban middle class in China and other emerging economies continue to catch up with this level.
If livestock eat grass and other plants which are not suitable for direct human consumption, animal husbandry can increase food supply and contribute significantly to agricultural production. Animals produce manure, contribute to soil cultivation, serve as draught and pack animals, recycle waste and stabilise the food security of their owners if kept as reserves.
Today, however, most fattened livestock no longer eat grass, but are fed maize, soybean, wheat or other grains instead. "The increase in consumption of animal products is, next to population growth, one of the major causes of the in­crease of global fertilizer use. World meat consumption (and production) is expected to grow by 70% in the period 2000-2030 and 120% in the period 2000-2050 (FAO, 2006b). The production and consumption of pig and poultry meat is expected to grow at a much higher speed than of bovine and ovine meat. Over the last years there has been a major expansion in large scale, vertically integrated industrial live­stock systems, and this development is expected to continue over the coming decades (Bruinsma, 2003). These systems can lead to concentration of manure; although manure is a valuable source of nutrients, concentrated spreading of ma­nure leads to significant emissions, to air, soil and water." (Global, p. 281)
Grown on agricultural land, the production of animal feed results in land for direct food production being lost.

World meat production

The livestock sector has an enormous impact on the environment. It accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 9% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Worldwide, it is responsible for around 8% of human water use, mostly for the irrigation of feed crops. 26% of all land worldwide is used for grazing. The total agricultural land dedicated to feed crop production amounts to 33%. 70% of agricultural land and 30% of the global land area are used for livestock production. In the US, animal husbandry accounts for 55% of all soil erosion and sedimentation, 37% of pesticide use, 50% of antibiotic use and one third of freshwater pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus (Global, p. 518). >>more

Facts & Figures

In 2012, around 304 million tonnes of meat were produced worldwide. For 2014, FAO forecasts an increase to 311.8 million tonnes. If a global average is taken, meat consumption amounted to 42.9 kilograms of meat per person in 2012. In developing countries, the average meat consumption per capita was 33.5 kg. In industrialised countries, the average meat consumption reached 76.2 kg.

A quarter of the earth’s terrestrial surface is used for ruminant grazing, and a third of global arable land is used to grow feed for livestock, accounting for 40% of total cereal production. Animal agriculture uses far more land resources than any other human activity.

One in eight British adults gave up eating meat and fish, according to new research by analysts Mintel. Some 12% now follow vegetarian or vegan diets, rising to 20% of those aged between 16 and 24. Millions more are “flexitarians” cutting back substantially on the amount of meat they eat. This has led to a booming £625million-a-year market for meat-free products in 2013.

In 2010, there were 26.7 billion farm animals worldwide. The number of chickens grown for human consumption increased 273 percent between 1970 and 2010 to 19.4 billion chicken. During the same period, the cattle population grew 32 percent to reach 1.4 billion.

Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world. Beef makes up 24% of the world's meat consumption, yet requires 30 million square kilometers of land to produce. In contrast, poultry accounts for 34% of global meat consumption and pork accounts for 40%. Both poultry and pork production uses less than two million square kilometers of land each.

The livestock sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent which is a higher percentage than total transport emissions. Livestock accounts for 9% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Most of this derives from land-use changes - especially deforestation.

A 2,000 kcal high meat diet produces 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan diet and twice as much than a vegetarian diet. Moving from a high meat diet to a low meat diet would reduce a person's carbon footprint by 920kg CO2e every year - equivalent to a return flight from London to New York. Moving from a high meat diet to a vegetarian diet would save 1,230kgCO2e/year.

Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land. The sector uses 3.4 billion hectares for grazing and 0.5 billion hectares (one-third of total arable land) for feed crops. The total land area used by livestock is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet.

The production of one kilogram of beef requires 15,414 litres of water on average. The water footprint of meat from sheep and goat (8,763 litres) is larger than that of pork (5,988 litres) or chicken (4,325 litres). The production of one kilogram of vegetables, on the contrary, requires 322 litres of water.


  • FAO Animal Production and Health Division Information on meat production & consumption
  • FAOSTAT Statistics on meat supply - disaggregated by regions and countries
  • OECD Database Historical and projected figures for meat production
  • ILRI International Livestock Research Institute, member of the CGIAR research centres
  • USDA United States Department of Agriculture - Reports and statistics on animal production in the U.S.

Civil Society

  • Farmageddon is a campaign to kickstart a food and farming revolution
  • The Pig Pledge is a movement to only eat meat from real farms, not animal factories
  • PETA animal rights NGO, information on factory farming, vegetarian recipes
  • Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced
  • Soil Association on animal welfare
  • WSPA World Society for the Protection of Animals exists to tackle animal cruelty across the globe
  • Worldwatch Institute News on seafood and meat consumption
  • The Meatrix offers information on factory farming, alternatives to conventionally-raised meat and humorous films about the problems with factory farming


Video: Meat and Animal Feed

To watch video click on the image
To watch video click on the image

Pig Business explores the rise of factory pig farming

Soy Story: the destruction of lands and lives in Argentina


  • Dietary changesDietary changes
  • UNEP Food Chain LossesUNEP Food Chain Losses
  • UNEP Global Trends ProductionUNEP Global Trends Production

Where the world's pigs live

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Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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