Meat and Animal Feed

Over the past 50 years, global meat production has almost quadrupled from 78 million tonnes in 1963 to a current total of 308 million tonnes per year. The IAASTD predicts that this trend will continue, especially because the growing urban middle classes in China and other emerging economies will adapt to the so-called western diet of people in North America and Europe with its burgers and steaks."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. 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. 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)
On average, every person on Earth currently consumes 42.9 kilograms of meat per year. This figure includes babies and adults, meat eaters and vegetarians alike. In 2011 every citizen in the UK consumed an average of 82 kilograms of meat, while US citizens consumed 118 kilograms. In general, men eat more meat than women. In the EU, meat consumption has stagnated recently; there is also a growing number of vegetarians and vegans. What’s more, they main type of meat consumed has switched from beef to poultry. The favourite meat of the average European however is pork. The Chinese also share this appetite for pork. Per capita, meat consumption in China has increased six-fold over the past 40 years. Since the population almost doubled to 1.3 billion people over the same period, global demand for meat and animal feed has exploded.

Plate or feed trough?

The production of meat, milk and eggs leads to an enormous loss of calories grown in fields, since cereals and oil seeds have to be cultivated to feed to animals. According to calculations of the United Nations Environment Programme, the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Feed conversion rates from plant-based calories into animal-based calories vary; in the ideal case it takes two kilograms of grain to produce one kilo of chicken, four kilos for one kilogram of pork and seven kilos for one kilogram of beef.
By their nature, cattle and sheep eat grass. More than two thirds of the global agricultural area is used for permanent meadows and pastures. If livestock eat grass and other plants that are not suitable for direct human consumption, they do not compete for cereals but increase food supply and add significantly to agricultural production. They produce manure, contribute to soil cultivation, serve as draught and pack animals, recycle waste and stabilise the food security of their owners."Worldwide, livestock have traditionally been part of farming systems for millennia. Integrated systems provide synergy between crops and livestock, with animals producing manure for use as fertilizer and improvement of soil structure (as well as a source of fuel), while crop by-products are a useful source of animal and fish food.“ (Global, p. 176)

Large parts of the grasslands used today, especially in arid regions, are not suitable for any other agricultural use except extensive grassland management. However, it is no longer possible to substantially increase its production capacity. In some areas of the world, overexploitation of grasslands, also through traditional livestock husbandry, has become a serious problem. In addition, chickens, pigs and other small animals, which are traditionally kept to make use of waste and other by-products, eat worms or acorns, can complement food production and optimise the use of resources. >>more

Facts & Figures

In 2014, around 315 million tonnes of meat were produced worldwide. For 2015, the FAO forecasts an increase to 318.8 million tonnes. If a global average is taken, meat consumption amounted to 43.4 kilograms of meat per person in 2014.

The FAO estimates that by 2050 global meat production will increase to 455 million tonnes.

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 one-third of global arable land to grow feed crops, accounting for more than 40% of world cereal production. 26% of the Earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface is used for grazing.

There are billions of farm animals worldwide. In 2013, the cattle population reached 1,494 million animals, up 54% from 1963. The number of chickens grown for human consumption increased from 4.1 billion to 21.7 billion between 1963 and 2013. During the same period, the pig population grew by 114% to reach 977 million heads.

One in eight British adults have now given 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 in 2013) market for meat-free products.

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 kilometres of land to produce. In contrast, poultry accounts for 34% of global meat consumption and pork accounts for 40%. Poultry and pork production each use less than two million square kilometres of land.

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 as a vegan diet, and twice as many as a vegetarian diet. Moving from a high meat 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 1,230kg CO2e per year.

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 kick-start 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

Click on the image to watch the video

Pig Business explores the rise of factory pig farming

Soy Story: the destruction of land 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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