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. Grown on agricultural land, the production of animal feed results in land for direct food production being lost. >>more

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).

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 per year. In developing countries, the average meat consumption per capita was 33.5 kg. In industrialised countries, the average meat consumption amounted to 76.2 kg.

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.


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
  • 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 Consumption

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

Pig Business explores the rise of factory pig farming

Where the world's pigs live


  • UNEP Dietary ChangeUNEP Dietary Change
  • UNEP Food Chain LossesUNEP Food Chain Losses
  • UNEP Global Trends ProductionUNEP Global Trends Production
Share |


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
English versionDeutsche VersionDeutsche Version