The uncertain future of meat: high prices and a vegetarian boom threaten global demand

uncertain future of meat

Is the flesh facing the end of an era? We will have to make use of the figures. In the US, meat sales in grocery stores are down more than 12% from a year ago. In Europe, global demand for beef is forecast to fall 1% this year. And in Argentina, home to one of the world’s most carnivorous populations, per capita beef consumption has dropped by almost 4% since 2020.

Although some of these figures may seem small, they constitute a rarity in a ‘carnivorous’ world, which until the arrival of the pandemic last year saw consumption grow for years to reach new records. Now, the demand seems to be decreasing around the world, which could indicate a clear paradigm shift in food.

Before fully analyzing this twist, it must be taken into account that not everything is in the palate or in the desire for healthier habits. The biggest deterrent to demand has been the relentless rise in prices that began in October, driven by tight global feed supplies and supply chain disruptions.

The United Nations meat price indicator has risen for eight consecutive months, the longest streak since 2011, and is close to a multi-year high. The price crisis comes at a time when consumers continue to grapple with the economic consequences of the COVID, forcing families from Brazil to the Philippines to buy less and switch to other proteins, such as eggs, if they can. indulge in it, or just fill your plates with rice or noodles.

However, reviewing history, the demand has decreased with the previous financial recessions and then recovered. What is different now is the boom in plant products . More and more consumers are deciding to give up meat out of concern for the environment, animal welfare and health. And this shift isn’t limited to California fad diets and East London hipsters . It is becoming more prevalent around the world and in all income groups, to the point where the twin forces of inflation and food trends come together to signal a seismic shift in meat consumption around the world.

“Meat is under threat like possibly never before,” says Tom Rees, industry director at market research firm Euromonitor International, in London. “When meat is too expensive, consumers will stop consuming it if they cannot afford it. The fundamental changes come more from the change in consumer attitudes” in aspects such as health and climate impact, he adds.

In some parts of the world, the switch to a plant-based diet comes amid the proliferation of more alternatives like Beyond Meat’s veggie burgers. But in others, it’s simply a matter of going back to basics: eating more beans and vegetables. In any case, climate advocates might rejoice at the meat ditch. By some measures, agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than transport, thanks in large part to livestock production.

But not everything is perfect and this change cannot be considered a universal good. In fact, for many, giving up meat is compounding one of the world’s deepest inequalities: who gets enough food with enough sources of nutrition, and who doesn’t.

Insufficient access to livestock and other foods of animal origin is one of the main factors behind the high rates of malnutrition that persist in many parts of Asia and Africa, UN Nutrition warned in June. The group’s analysis shows that meat and other animal products can help fight malnutrition that causes stunting in about a fifth of young children worldwide.

“Vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains are essential. But nutrient-rich animal products are especially effective in lifting young children from the brink of acute and chronic malnutrition,” Naoko Yamamoto, president of UN Nutrition and Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization for Universal Health Coverage.

It is difficult to find data that demonstrates the decline in world demand for meat. This is because most comprehensive measurements estimate consumption only in relation to production. It is assumed that when the supply is available, all is consumed. And livestock production is expected to grow this year as China recovers from an outbreak of African swine fever, a disease that kills pigs and has devastated the country’s pig herd.

Taking this formulation into account, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that world meat consumption per capita will grow by 1.2% in 2021, after having contracted 0.7% in the year past, and his forecast is mainly due to the magnitude of the rebound in China’s pig production.

Yet even in China, where meat inflation is now relatively subdued compared to other regions, plant-based diets are gaining traction, according to Darin Friedrichs, an analyst at StoneX in Shanghai. Younger generations are increasingly health-conscious and more likely to opt for less meat or poultry, while trendy and upscale restaurants now serve plant-based options, he stresses.