In the second half of the nineteen hundreds, global meat consumption increased fivefold, passing from 45 million tonnes of meat consumed in 1950 to the current 250 million tonnes. According to FAO estimates, this figure is set to double by 2050...
The average consumption of meat today in industrialized countries is 224 grams of meat per person per day (around 80 kilos a year per person), compared to an average of 30 grams (11 kilos of meat a year per person) consumed in Africa.
Figures concerning the numbers of animals slaughtered every year have reached exorbitant heights: 58 billion, 11 billion of which occur in China and 9 billion in the US. These staggering numbers alone refer to the amount of chickens slaughtered globally each year. Putting other species into the equation reveals figures that are still very high: one billion 383 million pigs; 517 million sheep; 430 million goats; 296 million cows are slaughtered yearly*.
In recent years, meat consumption has not only remained high in America and Europe, but has consistently grown in China, India and generally within those countries where a wealthy new middle class is emerging alongside a strong demographic increase (the Indian population, for instance, has grown by 200 million inhabitants every 10 years). A global surge in the demand for meat has resulted in a corresponding growth of the industrial production of meat and, subsequently, the concentration of power in the hands of the few large companies that can satisfy the market's demand. The transformation of the animal livestock industry and the production of meat have a long list of negative effects on the environment, human health, animal welfare and social justice.
The animals that we raise for food in turn need to be nourished to grow and produce, but the dietary resources they consume are significantly higher than those they produce in the form of meat, milk and eggs. To make one kilo of beef, 36.4 kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere and around 15,500 litres of water and 7 kilos of plant-based foods are required. Countries in the Global South produce soy and maize at a low cost to feed the intensive farms in the North. The figures are relentless: continuing to consume meat at current Western rates is unsustainable. If the populations from China, India and Brazil, for instance, started to consume this amount, there would not be sufficient land surface to feed all the necessary livestock.
We must also recognise an overall increase in awareness regarding our treatment of animals, which has resulted in the adoption of lifestyles that increasingly abandon or limit the consumption of animal products and a rise in stricter animal welfare laws.
Many eminent voices from a range of areas have been working to promote the responsible consumption of meat, by choosing a high quality product and limiting the average intake. Slow Food believes that promoting a strong animal welfare ethic encourages the consumer to eat less meat because it reduces the amount of meat produced and supports those who raise their animals according to the highest standards.
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* Figures obtained from the Meat Atlas
** The water footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured over the various steps of the production chain. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) or polluted. A water footprint generally breaks down into three components: the blue, green and grey water footprint. The blue water footprint is the volume of freshwater that is evaporated from the global blue water resources (surface and ground water). The green water footprint is the volume of water evaporated from the global green water resources (rainwater stored in the soil). The grey water footprint is the volume of polluted water, which is quantified as the volume of water that is required to dilute pollutants to such an extent that the quality of the ambient water remains above agreed water quality standards.