Beef production might be approaching its peak, and that’s good news for the environment and climate change.
The 10-year compound annual growth rate in beef output was 0.11%, and trending lower, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. American and European appetites are changing, with chicken overtaking beef in popularity, while demand in China and other developing markets is leveling off. Economic growth is now skyrocketing in India, but the country is unlikely to be a major beef consumer because of religious beliefs.
“Should we humans ever hit the peak of our meat consumption, it will set off a cascade of positive environmental and climate effects,” Nathaniel Bullard, a BloombergNEF analyst, wrote in Sparklines newsletter. “Beyond reducing emissions from belching cows, there could be major changes in our agricultural system.”
Beef, a rarity on mainland Chinese tables until recently, is now consumed at the same per-capita levels as wealthier Taiwan and Singapore and is near where Japan’s appetites peaked in the early 1990s. China’s beef industry probably has reached its capacity limits and the country’s population is projected to peak within the next few years.
The amount of “permanent meadows and pastures,” which is land used for grazing livestock, peaked at 2,000, according to UN data. The amount of land used for grazing slipped by 1.2% of total global land area in the years since.
The increase in meat calories has also flattened out. While slower rate of growth in meat consumption isn’t a decline, it still will have “massive implications for our climate and resources,” according to the Bloomberg report.
Much cropland is used to grow animal feed, so slower growth in meat output could change what’s grown. Plant-based substitutes for meat will need cropland, but this might be monitored better than grazing land and have less impact on the environment.
Reaching “peak beef” probably also would mean hitting peak emissions from burping livestock, which accounts for more than a third of all methane emissions that result from human activity. Concentrating livestock production on less land will mean less acerage to monitor for emissions and other environmental impacts, Bullard said.
- The January cattle inventory report by the USDA showed the first year-on-year contraction of the herd since 2014.The decline to domestic cattle numbers should continue until prices rise, according to Farm Bureau News.
- Meat demand may peak in 2030, after which consumption must drop quickly, according to a letter signed by more than 50 scientists in The Lancet Planetary Health in December. It’s the same year that the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change said the world should start sharply cutting carbon emissions.