In this blog, we provide a comprehensive update to our Global Slaughter Charts, and explore trends in the UN FAO data since tracking began in 1960.
Español | Português | 中文 | हिंदी | Bahasa Indonesia | ไทย | Việt | 日本語
In 2020, we publisheda comprehensive blog looking at the number of animals slaughtered globally for food every year, based on United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data that had been released up to 2018. This blog presents updated charts from the same dataset, using the latest numbers from 2019 and 2020.
As in 2020, the animal groups we focus on are cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and fishes. The data for land animals is part ofthe FAOSTAT databasefrom 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 1950-2020,”which can be found in FishStatJ, the software for fishery and aquaculture from the FAO. As has traditionally been the case, FAOSTAT database counts land animals by the individual animal slaughtered — this is not the case for the fish, who are measured in live weight (units are either tonnes or kilograms). To avoid confusion or inaccurate comparisons, we’ve opted to include a separate time series for fish, which can be found in the second tab in the interactive line charts.
It’s easy to see that chickens are by far the most slaughtered land animal, followed by pigs, sheep, and cows. This may seem counterintuitive to the visual representation, because the chicken line is the lowest on the chart. However, because chickens are slaughtered in such vast numbers, each unit of measurement counts for 1,000 individuals —this is how the UN FAO presents their data, as well. If we presented the data for chickens without this adjustment, then all of the other animal measurements would be proportionally flattened at the bottom of the chart, with only the chicken line being legible. That is how stark the difference in numbers is.
It’s also easy to see an anomaly in the data —a significant dip in the number of pigs slaughtered globally, by about 141 million individuals in 2019, attributable to Asia in particular. There was a significant outbreak of swine fever across Asia in 2018/2019, which could serve as an explanation. However, it’s been difficult to track down official numbers. News articles such as this one have noted that the outbreak and resultant culling were significant enough to cause global pig meat prices to rise by 40%, and that countries were culling significant percentages of their total herds —Vietnam, for example, culled about 6% of the pigs in the country. Meanwhile, this study estimated that the outbreak and culling resulted in economic losses to China that amounted to 0.78% of that country’s entire GDP, and that any official numbers were likely to be underreported for various reasons. Indeed, pig slaughter for food in China dropped by 21% from 2018 to 2019, followed by a 30% increase from 2019 to 2020 (or a 3% increase from 2018 to 2020). In other words, as of 2020, pig slaughter has resumed its upward trend.
In total, the number of cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep slaughtered in 2020 was 73,162,794,213 — a 2.8% increase over 2018, when the number was 71,145,623,131 —but actually a 2% decrease from 2019 when the number was 74,669,379,926. During the period of 2018-2020, the global population increased by 2.13%.
Through this, we can observe that per capita sheep and chicken consumption is rising slightly since our last update in 2018, while per capita cow consumption is trending downwards. Meanwhile, per capita pig consumption has spiked back upwards again, but is still below 2018 levels.
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. To do so, 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. Because of the nature of stacked area graphs, it’s useful to toggle which continents are shown by clicking on them in the legend below the graphs. This allows the results for each continent to be seen separately, and more clearly.
The most apparent and most encouraging aspect to observe is that for all animals except for pigs and sheep, the absolute numbers in almost every continent are trending downwards. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily continue trending that way —two years of data is not enough to make that claim —but the direction is encouraging. As in past reports, Oceania accounts for a large share of sheep slaughtered worldwide, even though it’s by far the least populated continent. Finally, while past years have shown a general upward trend worldwide for fish slaughter — mainly attributable to Asia — there is some indication that fish slaughter in Asia and Oceania may be plateauing, while slaughter in other continents is generally trending downward. The clear exception is Africa, where fish slaughter is on a general upward climb, despite a small dip in 2020.
At this point, it’s worthwhile to look at the per capita numbers —and it’s important to recognize here that for this graph, and the ones that follow (as well as for all of the graphs in this piece), we are describing slaughter, not consumption. It may seem odd that certain countries or continents slaughter so many individuals of a specific species, but many of these seeming anomalies are due to the fact that a given country may be a major exporter of a certain animal product.
Looking at the stacked area graph for cows, Oceania remains far ahead in per capita slaughter. The chicken graphs show once again that in all continents, more chickens were slaughtered per citizen, with the Americas way out front, followed by Oceania and Europe. Considering the graph for pigs, we can see that pig slaughter per capita is on a general upward trend in Africa and Europe, while the American trend is mostly flat, and Oceania seems to be falling. Asia was subject to that significant dip in pig slaughter, but is headed back upwards, perhaps continuing the upward trend for the past couple of decades.For sheep, once again the per capita numbers for Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa are overshadowed by those of Oceania, and all continents seem to have a downward trend per capita except for Asia.
Lastly, looking at the stacked area graph for fish the per capita amount of fish slaughtered in the Americas, which has always been highly erratic, seems to be trending slowly downward, whereas in the other continents there seems to be a steadier trend. One other exception is Asia, where there are signs of a per capita decline.
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.
Looking at any of the different species, we can see that a few names dominate these absolute numbers: China —which makes sense based on its size —as well as the United States and Brazil. For certain species, we see more regional differences: Indonesia and Peru chart very high fish slaughter, Australia and New Zealand are near the top for sheep slaughter, and Indonesia is near the top for chicken slaughter, as well. Meanwhile, China dominates in pig slaughter, and Argentina and Pakistan appear high for cow slaughter.
Now we look at whether the countries that have a high absolute number of slaughtered animals also have a high per capita number, using graphs corrected for population size.
With numbers adjusted to reflect a relationship to population, countries like China, Brazil, and the United States drop out of the picture. New Zealand dominates cow slaughter (each year almost one cow is slaughtered per inhabitant). Israel, Belarus, and Guyana lead in the per capita slaughter of chickens. Denmark slaughters the most pigs per capita (almost 3 pigs per year per person in the country), followed by Spain and the Netherlands. The per capita percentage map for fish is dominated by the Falkland Islands, Nauru, and Greenland.
A disadvantage of using these graphs is that they mainly give a good idea of the top tail of the distribution of countries, while the countries with lower slaughter numbers virtually disappear. The interactive world map graphs below provide absolute and per capita representations 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.
As we’ve discussed in previous editions of this series, the FAO data is helpful and unique in that it offers a global outlook on the number of animals slaughtered over a longitudinal timeframe. That being said, the data isn’t free from criticism.
It’s also important to note that while these numbers give us an idea of what is happening in terms of animal slaughters, they don’t tell us why. In other words, we can’t always speculate on why certain animals experienced a drop or rise in slaughters from one year to the next, or why one country dominates over another. We also can’t comment on how global phenomena like COVID-19 impacted this data, if at all. Regardless, we hope that animal advocates can use the information to drive their campaign focus areas in the years to come.