In the global north, the to augment meat of plant origin, alongside disturbances in meat supply chains caused by Covid-19, has left some wondering if the world is on the verge of reaching “spike of meat”.

But, in other parts of the world, meat consumption is accelerating like never before.

Meat consumption in low and middle income countries (LMICs) is keep going up as the middle classes grow, with consequences for health, climate and economies, both locally and globally.

The impact of this trend, if it continues in its current form, could eclipse the impact of declining meat consumption in North America and Europe.

Bennett’s law

Food and climate

This article is part of a special week-long series on how food production, consumption and waste contribute to climate change.

The theory dictates that the growth in meat consumption in the decades to come will be driven by LMICs.

In economy, Bennett’s law states that as incomes increase, consumption of nutrient-rich food products, such as meat and animal products, increases in the diet, while consumption of high-calorie staple foods decreases.

This consumption is motivated by beliefs about the added nutritional value of meat, as well as other complex socio-cultural factors, such as the importance of meat as a status indicator.

(In many low-income countries, farm animals are not viewed as a direct food source, but as a form of wealth. de facto dowry loans, farm animals have value beyond just arriving on a plate as meat.)

The link between economic development and meat consumption appears to be true for China.

In 1980, China’s annual meat production was around half that of the United States. However, by 2018 it had quadrupled, far surpassing the United States to become the world’s largest meat producer. Evidence shows that much of this meat is consumed in China rather than being exported.

Meat production in different countries from 1961 to 2018. Adapted from Hannah Ritchie / Our World in Data. Data source: FAO. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

In addition, rapid economic development in other Asian countries has made the region the largest producer of meat in the world. In 2018, Asia represented around 40-45% of total meat production. (Meat production in Asia has increased 15 times since 1961.)

World meat production by region from 1961 to 2018. Adapted from Hannah Ritchie / Our World in Data.  Data source: FAO.  Charted by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

World meat production by region from 1961 to 2018. Adapted from Hannah Ritchie / Our World in Data. Data source: FAO. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Meat consumption has also increased in Central and South America in recent decades. Latin America and the Caribbean now ranks third in the world for the region with the highest proportion of red meat in the diet after North America and Europe, according to a to study published in 2019.

One of the main drivers of global emissions is the increase in meat consumption. The total food production currently represents a trimester global emissions – animal products being responsible for the majority of these emissions. [Earlier this week, Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A on the climate impacts of eating meat and dairy.]

However, in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth is rapid, meat consumption has remained relatively weak. This largely reflects economic stagnation in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Food of the future

History suggests that as LMICs continue to develop, their meat production levels are also likely to increase.

The last agricultural projections of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) find that the global expansion of meat supply is expected to increase by 40 million tonnes by 2029, compared to 2018-19 levels.

The report states that “developing countries are expected to account for the bulk of the total increase in production.”

It predicts that the increase in per capita meat consumption in developed countries will be 0.24% per year, or about a quarter of the annual growth rate of the previous decade.

However, in developing countries, meat consumption growth is expected to be 0.8% per year, double that of the previous decade.

“Plant” attitudes

The slowdown in meat consumption in developed countries can be explained in part by a popularization “plant” lifestyles.

However, Bennett’s Law suggests that these trends are not necessarily likely to spill over into LMICs. In many of these countries, increasing meat consumption remains an aspiration, diets are more anchored in traditional culinary traditions, and “alternative proteins” are already a staple.

For example, in China, vegetarian diets are historically associated with Buddhism. While Western consumers can find products like fake meat “Burger impossible”Innovative, imitation of meat has existed in the wider Chinese and Eastern Buddhist diaspora in Asia for many centuries.

Phone some products in China, which are often served in high-end restaurants, mimic meat not only as a source of protein, but also in terms of texture, aesthetics and taste.

KFC and Starbucks have both recently iaunlocked China herbal menu items. However, these products have received mixed responses and the jury is out on whether these types of products will impact the consumption patterns of the general population.

In addition, some domestic experts have spoken out against efforts to reduce meat consumption in China on the grounds that meat should not be a “exclusive privilege»Reserved for Western countries.

In China and other Asian LMICs, innovations in meat production may have greater potential for reducing total meat emissions than changes in demand.

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The use of autonomous surveillance animal health and feed optimization are both current technologies that attract investment and industry interest in this part of the world. In China, the application of agricultural technology is at the heart of key government strategies.

These innovations could help optimize animal production by reducing waste and associated carbon footprint. However, it should be noted that there are animal welfare concerns attached to some of these technologies.

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