Global Animal Slaughter Statistics & Charts: 2020 Update - Faunalytics (2023)

In this blog, we give a comprehensive update to our Global Slaughter Charts, and explore trends in the UN FAO data over the past 60 years.

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For the latest Statistics and Charts, please see our 2022 Update.

Almost two years ago, we published a series of blogs that documented how many animals are slaughtered for food every year based on United Nations data. This blog offers an updated and improved version using the latest data, and includes two additional years worth of numbers. In terms of improvements, we’ve added a measure for fish, we’ve introduced a new chart that helps to better visualize the data, and we’ve condensed all of the information into a single blog post, as opposed to a blog post per animal group.

The animal groups we focus on are cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and fish. The data for land animals is part of the FAOSTAT database from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Meanwhile, the data for fish was pulled from the database “Global Production by production source 1950-2018”, which can be found in FishStatJ, the software for fishery and aquaculture from the FAO. For land animals, we focused on the number of animals that were slaughtered for their meat. In the FAOSTAT database, this corresponds to the item “Meat, {Animal group}”. The unit for land animals is hence the number of animals slaughtered. This is not the case for the fish, who are measured in live weight (units are either tonnes or kilograms). To avoid confusion, we’ve opted to include a separate time series for fish, which can be found in the second tab in the interactive line charts.

Noting that chickens are measured in thousands, it is apparent that they are by far the most slaughtered land animal, followed by pigs, sheep, and cows. Again, note that we cannot compare the number of slaughtered fish with the number of slaughtered land animals because the fish used for production are measured in live weight — we would have to estimate an average production fish weight across all species. All of the absolute time series seem to have an upward trend, although the time series of fish seems to be flattening since around 1990. One might argue that these upward trends are due to increasing population, and we can check this claim by plotting the time series per capita.

Through this, we can observe that only chickens and pigs keep their upward trend, whereas sheep and cows now have a clear downward trend. Meanwhile, the time series for fish first goes up, but has had a steady downward trend since 1990.

We thought it might be interesting and worthwhile to deconstruct these time series to get an idea about where in the world different animal groups are slaughtered the most. In a first attempt at this type of analysis, we plotted a stacked area graph for the different continents for each animal group. Note that the different animal groups can be found in the different tabs of the graph.

We can observe that for cows, the absolute number of slaughtered animals has been decreasing in Europe, but increasing in Oceania, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. Concerning chickens, more chickens were slaughtered over time on all continents. From the stacked area graph for pigs we learn that the worldwide increase in the number of slaughtered pigs has mainly been due to a large increase in consumption in Asia. The number of pigs slaughtered also increased in Oceania, the Americas, and Africa, but was relatively stable in Europe. Looking at the numbers for sheep, we observe a big increase in the number of slaughtered sheep in Asia and Africa, whereas the number seems to be dropping in Oceania, Europe, and the Americas. It is noteworthy that Oceania accounts for a large share of sheep slaughtered worldwide, given that it is by far the least populated continent. Finally, when we consider fish, we again observe that the general upward trend worldwide is mainly attributable to Asia. There seems to be an upward trend in Oceania and Africa over the whole time series, and a downward trend for Europe and the Americas since around 1990.

Having observed that large parts of the worldwide trends were caused by increases in the number of slaughtered animals in Asia, and the fact that Asia’s population grew the most (in absolute number) over the considered period, it is worthwhile to investigate the per capita stacked area graph.

Looking at the stacked area graph for cows, we observe that by far the most cows are slaughtered per capita in Oceania. This number is decreasing for all continents except Asia, where there has been a slight increase. From the chicken graphs, we learn that in all continents more chickens were slaughtered per citizen. It is noteworthy that in Oceania, Europe, and the Americas, more chickens are slaughtered per capita than in Asia and Africa. Considering the graph for pigs, it becomes apparent that the big contribution of Asia to the increase in the number of slaughtered pigs worldwide was indeed due to its population growth; the number of slaughtered pigs for the average Asian citizen has only grown slightly. The time series for Oceania, Europe, and the Americas seem to be fairly stable and the one for Africa has an upward trend.

The same conclusion about Asia’s contribution to the absolute number of slaughtered animals can be made for sheep. The per capita numbers for Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa are overshadowed by those of Oceania. All continents seem to have a downward trend per capita except for Asia.

Lastly, we look at the stacked area graph for fish. The per capita amount of fish that were used for production in the Americas is striking: it is highly erratic, whereas in the other continents there seems to be a steadier trend. The time series for Oceania, Europe, and Asia slightly trend upwards, and the time series for Africa seems stable.

We can further deconstruct these time series by breaking down continents into countries. To depict the distribution of the number of slaughtered animals over the different countries as clearly as possible, we opted to use interactive percentage maps.

It follows that the countries with the largest number of slaughtered cows and chickens are China, the United States, and Brazil. Concerning pigs, they are slaughtered by far the most in China, followed by the United States, Germany, Spain, Vietnam, and Brazil. Looking at the percentage graph for sheep, we observe again that China slaughtered the most sheep, this time followed by Australia and New Zealand. Finally, the amount (in tonnes) of fish used for production is highest in China, Indonesia, Peru, India, Russia, and the United States (in that order).

It is again interesting to investigate whether the countries that have a high absolute number of slaughtered animals also have a high per capita number. We, therefore, plot the same graph again but now correct for population size.

We can see above that the countries with high absolute slaughter numbers like China, Brazil, and the United States seem to drop out of the picture. Concerning the number of slaughtered cows, New Zealand has the highest per capita number: each year almost one cow is slaughtered per inhabitant. New Zealand is followed by Uruguay, Ireland, and Australia. The country where the most chickens are slaughtered per capita is Israel, followed by Brunei, Mauritius, and Belarus. The most pigs were slaughtered per capita in Denmark, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands (in that order). The per capita percentage maps for sheep and fish are dominated by the Falkland Islands. Other countries where the number of slaughtered sheep per capita is high are New Zealand, Mongolia, and Iceland. Greenland, Iceland, and Kiribati are countries where per capita the amount of fish production was large.

A disadvantage of using these percentage graphs is that they mainly give a good idea of the top tail of the distribution of countries. We are therefore also including interactive world map graphs (absolute and per capita numbers) so that readers can easily find the data for a specific country. One can also hover over the legend distribution to see which countries are in that specific part of the distribution.

The FAO is unique in being able to provide global scale statistics on animal agriculture, but some advocates have raised valid questions about the overall accuracy of their statistics. A critique of FAO statscan be found here. Still, when discussing global slaughter, more reliable official data can be hard to come by. Overall, the numbers give advocates a relatively solid longitudinal picture of how many animals have been consumed around the world for the past 60 years or so, and general trends in different kinds of consumption. This information can be used in countless ways to inform advocacy campaigns, from local and regional campaigns, to broader global efforts.

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