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IT’S NOT FOR DINNER: The World Is Finally Losing Its Taste for Meat

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Meat consumption dropped in 2019, and a decline again in 2020 is forecasted. Two consecutive years of decline is unprecedented and could be the start of something durable.

NATHANIAL BULLARD: Global consumption of animal proteins has been rising, apparently inexorably, for the past six decades. The coronavirus pandemic has finally changed that trajectory. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that meat production—a decent proxy for consumption—dropped in 2019, and it forecasts a decline again this year. Last year was only the second since 1961 in which production fell; two consecutive years of decline is unprecedented and could be the start of something durable.

We’re already at peak pasture as far as demand is concerned, and it looks like we’re also approaching peak beef, even in places like steak-crazed Brazil… the 3% drop in per-capita meat consumption expected for this year will be the biggest decline since at least 2000. But there’s more to it even than that, especially considering what that could mean for the environment and climate change…

If we look at meat production on a per capita basis, we see another sort of peak—the behavioral peak, so to speak. Per person beef consumption peaked as long ago as the late 1970s. Pork consumption peaked in 2015. Chicken is on its way up, and at current per capita consumption rates will soon pass pork… by any number of measures, beef consumption looks very near its peak, and the investors betting more than $1 billion on alternative proteins this year are hoping that their portfolio companies can drive meat demand down further.

Here’s why these trends matter for the climate. Beef production is an extremely high-emitting sector of global food production. Emissions from beef production are about 10 times higher than from either pork or chicken. Beef emissions also aren’t just from the farm itself; they’re also from land use change, such as deforestation to make space for grazing… Reducing emissions from land use will also be critical in the future, as agriculture plus forestry and land use account for 18.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. SOURCE…

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