What percentage of the human population eat meat?

Meat consumption is a complex topic with many factors influencing how much meat people eat around the world. Overall, it’s estimated that a majority of the global population eats at least some meat. However, there are significant regional and cultural differences in meat eating habits. Understanding meat consumption rates can provide important insights into food security, environmental impacts, and health outcomes across different populations.

Quick Overview of Global Meat Consumption

Current estimates suggest around 70-75% of the global population eats at least some meat. However, consumption levels vary widely between different regions and countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Food and Agriculture Association (FAO), the average person worldwide ate around 43 kg of meat in 2019. But per capita consumption ranged from under 10kg in India to over 100kg in the United States.

Meat consumption also tends to be higher in developed countries compared to developing nations. For example, average annual meat consumption is around 85kg in high-income countries. Whereas it’s closer to 25kg in lower middle-income countries. Cultural and religious beliefs also significantly influence meat eating habits around the world.

Meat Consumption by Region

There are noticeable regional differences in global meat consumption rates:


Asia accounts for around half of the global population. Average per capita meat consumption in Asia was under 40kg in 2019. However, there’s high variation between different countries. Meat consumption is relatively low in India, Vietnam and Indonesia. But much higher in wealthier places like Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Overall, poultry is the most widely consumed meat across Asia.


Average per capita meat consumption in Africa was under 20kg in 2019. Cultural and economic factors result in low meat intake for many African nations. However, consumption rates are rising among wealthier segments of the population in countries like South Africa, Egypt and Morocco.


Europe has among the highest meat consumption rates globally, averaging around 80kg per person. Meat intake is particularly high in countries like Spain, France, Germany and Denmark. Poultry and pork are the most popular meats in European diets.

North America

The United States has one of the highest per capita meat consumption levels worldwide, averaging over 100kg annually. High disposable incomes contribute to high intakes of beef, chicken and pork. Canada also has above average meat consumption approaching 100kg per person each year.

Latin America

Average per capita meat intake in Latin America is around 90kg. Countries like Argentina and Brazil have strong cattle industries and cultural preferences for beef. But poultry and pork are also popular in the region.


Australia and New Zealand have high per capita meat consumption, averaging around 100kg per year. Red meats like beef and lamb are eaten frequently, along with lower levels of chicken and pork.

Meat Consumption Trends

Looking at how meat consumption patterns have changed over time provides further insights:

Rising Global Demand

Overall meat consumption has increased significantly worldwide over the past 50 years. Per capita intake has more than doubled since 1961. This reflects rising prosperity in many developing nations. Annual global meat production has quadrupled from around 100 million tonnes in 1961 to over 360 million tonnes in recent years.

Increasing Poultry

While all meat types have increased, poultry has seen the biggest rise. Global chicken consumption per person has quadrupled since 1961. It surpassed pork in the 1990s to become the most eaten meat worldwide. Poultry now represents around 40% of global meat intake due to its relatively low cost.

Falling Red Meat in Wealthy Countries

Beef, lamb and pork consumption per person has been declining in many high-income Western nations since the 1970s. This has been driven by health concerns about red and processed meats, along with high prices. People are increasingly shifting towards poultry and fish instead.

Rising Meat in Developing Countries

In contrast to wealthy nations, demand for all meat types has been rising quickly in developing countries. Meat is considered a luxury product when incomes are low. So consumption climbs rapidly as prosperity increases, before eventually stabilizing. This is evidenced by surging demand in countries like China and Brazil since the 1980s.

Meat Consumption by Diet Type

Meat intake is essentially universal in some diets, while completely avoided in others:

Omnivorous Diets

Most people around the world have omnivorous diets that include both animal and plant foods. Exactly how much meat is consumed varies significantly based on culture, preferences and income levels. But omnivores represent around 70-75% of the global population.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Vegetarians and vegans who completely avoid meat for ethical, religious or health reasons represent a minority of the global population. Estimates suggest around 2-5% of people worldwide are vegetarian. True vegans are rarer still, comprising around 1% or less of the population.

Cultural and Religious Influences

Some cultural and religious groups have strong prohibitions against specific meat types which impacts consumption patterns. For example, Hindus and Buddhists often avoid beef, while Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. Around 20-25% of the world’s population follows these belief systems.

Factors Influencing Meat Consumption

Many interrelated factors determine meat eating habits worldwide:

Income Levels

Higher disposable incomes allow greater consumption of expensive animal proteins like meat. Therefore, meat intake tends to be highest in wealthy developed nations. There are exceptions like India where cultural and religious factors limit meat eating despite rising incomes.


Urban residents tend to eat more meat than rural populations. City dwellers have more access to supermarket meat and greater exposure to meat-centric fast food diets. Developing countries are urbanizing rapidly, contributing to higher meat demand.

Prices and Production

Affordable pricing facilitates increased meat consumption, especially in developing markets. Meat production using efficient factory farming has substantially lowered costs since the 1960s. However, prices remain high in countries that have limited domestic production.

Culture and Traditions

Cultural beliefs and long-held food traditions play a major role in meat eating habits. Religions like Islam and Judaism have specific rules around preparing meat. Some Asian and African cuisines center around starches like rice with smaller meat portions.

Consumer Concerns

Growing health and sustainability concerns have reduced meat demand in some Western countries. Consumers worried about issues like heart disease, obesity and climate change are opting for less but higher quality meat.

Policies and Regulation

Government agriculture policies, livestock regulations and environmental laws also shape meat supply and consumption patterns to some degree in different countries.

Impacts of Meat Consumption

The type and amount of meat people eat has wide-ranging impacts:

Nutrition and Health

Meat provides high-quality protein and important micronutrients. However, excessive red and processed meat intake is linked to increased risks for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions. Appropriate meat consumption is part of a balanced, healthy diet.

Food Security

Increased meat production has improved global nutrition levels by providing a widely available protein source. But high dependence on resource-intensive meat as populations grow may threaten future food security in some regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.

Environmental Footprint

Meat production requires more land, water and energy resources than plant-based foods. It also causes higher greenhouse gas emissions. Global efforts to reduce environmental impacts are trying to make agriculture more sustainable.

Economic Development

Growth of meat production and consumption can support rural incomes and overall economic development. The livestock industry employs around 1.3 billion people globally. However, transition to factory farming has also disrupted many smallholders.

Animal Welfare

Increasing awareness of animal sentience is leading calls to improve welfare standards in industrial livestock production. But higher costs limit implementation in developing countries seeking to expand meat output.

Projecting Future Meat Consumption

Given the health and sustainability concerns around high meat intake, many experts are focused on projecting future consumption trends:

Continued Global Growth Expected

OECD-FAO projections estimate overall meat consumption will rise around 12% between 2020 and 2029 to reach 360 million tonnes. The increase is driven by continuing growth in China, India, Brazil and other developing regions.

Diverging Developed vs Developing Country Trends

Per capita meat consumption is expected to keep increasing across Asia, Africa and South America. But stabilizing or declining meat demand in North America, Europe and Oceania will offset this growth slightly at the global level.

Shifts to Poultry and Pork

Cultural preferences combined with prices means future meat demand will continue shifting further towards chicken and pork. Rising incomes could also spark demand for meat alternatives like lab grown products.

Potential for Lower Meat Diets

There are calls for wealthier populations to move to more plant-based diets for sustainability. Reduced meat consumption may happen if prices increase or production regulations tighten. But any major changes could take decades to eventuate.

Key Role of Policy and Technology

Governments play a central role in shaping food systems. Regulations, education programs and subsidies could all help encourage more balanced and sustainable meat consumption where appropriate. Farming technologies like crops for animal feed, vertical integration and meat alternatives may also disrupt future demand.


Current estimates indicate around 70-75% of the global population consumes at least some meat. But intake levels vary widely between different regions and countries based on culture, economics and dietary preferences. Overall meat consumption has increased consistently for decades, raising both nutrition and sustainability concerns. While further growth is projected in developing nations, there are signs of stabilizing demand in wealthier regions. Exactly how meat consumption patterns evolve in coming decades remains uncertain. Policy reforms, consumer trends and new technologies could all shape global diets. But meat looks set to remain an important dietary component for the majority of the world’s population for years to come.

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