Global demand for meat threatened as ‘never before’ as prices soar
IN THE UNITED STATES, grocery store meat sales are down more than 12% from a year ago. In Europe, overall beef demand is expected to fall by 1% this year. And in Argentina, home to one of the most carnivorous populations in the world, per capita beef consumption has fallen almost 4% from 2020.
While some of these numbers may seem small, even a small drop is a rarity in the meat world, which until the pandemic struck last year saw consumption growth over the years for reach new records. Today, demand is declining worldwide, which could signal the start of another large abandonment of animal proteins.
The main obstacle to demand has been the relentless surge in prices that started in October, propelled up by squeezing global feed supplies and supply chain disruptions. The United Nations global meat price indicator has risen for eight consecutive months, the longest streak since 2011 and is near a multi-year high. The price shock comes at a time when consumers are still grappling with the economic fallout from COVID, forcing families from Brazil to the Philippines to buy less and trade in other proteins like eggs if they can afford it, or instead of filling their plates with rice or noodles.
For Eudelia Pena, a 48-year-old woman who lives in New York City with her husband and one of her three children, meat has become a luxury. Retail ground beef prices in the United States have jumped about 6% since before the pandemic, while whole chickens are up about 9% and pork chops have jumped 13% to about 3.88 $ a pound in May, according to government data. This makes animal protein almost unaffordable for Pena’s family, who have only one income after losing their job in a clothing store.
“With what I spend today, I don’t even bring back half of what I used to do,” she said. “I used to buy two chickens. Now I buy only one and divide it in half.
But demand has declined with previous financial downturns, only to rebound. What’s different now, of course, is the plant boom. More and more consumers are choosing to forgo meat due to environmental, animal welfare and health concerns. And this change isn’t limited to trendy California dieters and East London hipsters. Increasingly, it is picked up across the world and across income groups – so much so that the twin forces of inflation and dietary trends are now coming together to signal a dramatic shift in meat consumption in the world. world.
“Meat is under threat like never before,” said Tom Rees, industry manager at Euromonitor International, a London market researcher.
“When meat becomes too expensive to eat, consumers will absolutely stay away from it if they cannot afford it. The fundamental changes come more from changing consumers’ attitudes towards things like the impact on health and the climate, Rees said.
Take the case of Mario Cruz, a public school teacher who lives north of Manila in Bulacan Province in the Philippines. As the country suffered from one of Southeast Asia’s greatest economic successes due to the pandemic, Cruz started growing vegetables in his garden last year to feed his family of four. Before that, he spent nearly 2,000 pesos a week on meat. Now he hardly buys anything. Cruz, a diabetic, said he planted the vegetable garden “to meet our needs and survive”, but it had an unexpected result.
“We are now on a mostly plant-based diet, and I feel healthier,” he said.
In some parts of the world, the switch to a plant-based diet comes amid the proliferation of other alternatives like Beyond Meat veggie burgers. But in others, it’s just a back to basics approach of eating more beans and veggies. Either way, climate activists might be happy to move away from meat. According to some measures, agriculture is responsible for more global greenhouse gas emissions than transport, largely through animal production.
But this change cannot be regarded as some kind of universal good. In fact, for many, giving up meat exacerbates 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 the undernourishment that causes stunted growth in about a fifth of young children worldwide.
“Vegetables, fruits, pulses and grains are essential. But nutrient-rich animal products are particularly effective in lifting young children from the brink of acute and chronic malnutrition, ”said Naoko Yamamoto, President of UN Nutrition and Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization. health for universal health coverage, in a statement. .
This is a point deeply felt by Fabiana Ribeiro da Silva, a 36-year-old mother of four who lives on the outskirts of Colombo, in the state of Parana, in southern Brazil. She was forced to cut expenses after losing her job in senior care. Before the pandemic, chicken was on his family’s table almost every day and beef once a week. Now they mainly eat only rice and beans. Every now and then she does some temporary cleaning work, which allows for the very rare purchase of eggs or hens. Her three-year-old daughter can only drink some milk when she has extra money, and she is worried about her five-year-old daughter, who has started to lose weight.
“She doesn’t eat a lot,” Da Silva said.
There is not a single data point that is the smoking gun showing declining global demand for meat. This is because the most comprehensive measures estimate consumption only relative to production. It is assumed that when the supply is available, everything will be eaten. And animal production is expected to increase this year as China recovers from an outbreak of African swine fever, a deadly pig disease that had devastated the country’s pig herd. Based on this formulation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that global per capita meat consumption will increase by 1.2% in 2021 after contracting by 0.7% year-on-year. last, its forecasts being mainly driven by the size of the rebound in pork production in China.
Regional sales data that shows declines from last year may also be somewhat skewed due to the increase in grocery shopping in the early months of the pandemic, in part fueled by restaurant closings. . Yet interviews with consumers, food vendors, analysts and experts around the world indicate a clear trend: demand for meat is under what appears to be a long-term threat.
Even in China, where meat inflation is now relatively under control compared to other regions, plant-based diets are gaining ground, according to Darin Friedrichs, Shanghai-based analyst at StoneX Group, Inc. Young people generations are increasingly health conscious and more likely to opt for less meat or poultry, while trendy, upscale restaurants are now serving plant-based options, he said.
Meanwhile, things have calmed down for Ricardo Lamboglia who works as a butcher in the Mataderos district of Buenos Aires. The neighborhood – nicknamed Nueva Chicago because of its similar historical roots as a hub for slaughterhouses and butchers – was once bustling, with “little room to move” on the sidewalks where vendors advertise their products on colorful signs .
“The pandemic killed us,” Lamboglia said, pointing to the almost empty street from the open-air entrance to his store.
“We used to sell 4,000 to 5,000 kilograms a month, and now it’s more like 2,000. Nowadays people count their pennies. – Bloomberg