Since Peak Livestock in 2019, climate change has driven another year of less livestock

According to new data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, worldwide production of animal-based meat products has dropped for the fourth year in a row since 2018-2019.

The trend of declining livestock production stands in sharp contrast to analysis from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a UN specialized agency.  The FAO’s agricultural outlook for 2020-2029 states that “protein from animal sources are expected to account for a greater share of total daily per capita availability.”  Consistent with the FAO’s outlook, the Good Food Institute has stated that “meat production is projected to nearly double by 2050.” 

However, statistics published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January 2023 tell a different story.  Notably, the latest numbers for livestock production published by the USDA, which include projections for October 2023, can be compared to October 2019 projections published by the USDA, and from those two sets of statistics four years apart from each other, some key numbers can be put into a simple table as follows:

Production and consumption                                                           October 2019                 October  2023                                                                                                                                          (1,000 metric tons)          (1,000 metric tons)

Total worldwide beef and veal production                                              63,623                                59,372

Total worldwide beef and veal consumption                                          61,734                                 56,961

Total worldwide pork production                                                             114,585                               109,846

Total worldwide pork consumption                                                          114,211                               108,677

Total worldwide chicken meat production                                                97,802                               100,931

Total worldwide chicken meat consumption                                             95,974                                 98,250


Total worldwide production of livestock products                                  276,010                             270,149

Total worldwide consumption of livestock products                              271,919                              263,888


Then, looking up worldwide human population, one can find it recorded at 7.715 billion in 2019, and recorded today at 7.954 billion.  Using simple division, this suggests that on a worldwide basis, humans consumed about 0.03525 metric tons or about 78 pounds per person of beef, veal, pork and chicken meat in 2019, and about .03318 metric tons or about 73 pounds per person of beef, veal, pork and chicken meat in 2022/2023 – that is, 5 fewer pounds per person in 2022/2023 vs. 2019.

While the drop in livestock production from 2018-2020 has been significant on a worldwide basis, it has been even more pronounced in the most populous of emerging markets, China and India.  This pattern of markedly lower livestock production was not foreseen by the FAO’s agricultural outlook for 2020-2029, which states:  “Growth in animal protein consumption will be particularly pronounced in upper middle- and lower middle-income countries.. [and] consumers in lower middle-income countries increase their consumption of animal protein faster than consumers in any other income group.

The abovementioned numbers suggest that livestock emissions are being mitigated as a result of a process by which people are replacing livestock products with better alternatives.  This is likely more of a supply-led vs. demand-driven process, which has been happening in part because of supply chain issues due to Covid-19, and also because food industry leaders are making and marketing increasing volumes of plant-based meat, milk, cheese, and even “egg” and “fish” products — but also because climate change is causing large-scale die-offs of livestock and crops that feed them, occurring with increasing frequency in every region of the world due to disruptive climate events.

Maybe even more significantly, the replacement of livestock products with better alternatives is happening because there’s a business case for it to happen, rather than because policies or subsidies are driving it.  This suggests that recommending policies and subsidies for mitigation measures to improve livestock production could be viewed as similar to recommending policies and subsidies for mitigation measures to improve the production of fossil fuels, instead of replacing fossil fuels with better alternatives.

World Bank Group environmental specialists have explained that only replacing livestock products with better alternatives can provide the dual benefits of dramatically reduced livestock emissions accompanied by huge drawdowns of atmospheric carbon, as much of the vast amount of land now used for livestock production can be reforested.

In any event, it seems likely that 2018-2019 marked the time of “Peak Livestock” – and it seems likely that an increasingly vegan world is now inevitable.



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