Meat Atlas

An Executive Summary

by Daniel Vaughn · May 12, 2014

Meat Atlas CoverA few months ago the Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) released a sixty-six page report on meat consumption around the globe called the Meat Atlas. In their words “the report presents a global perspective on the impacts of industrial meat and dairy production, and illustrates its increasingly devastating impact on society and the environment. The way we produce and consume meat and dairy needs a radical rethink.”

The narrative within the report has a definite anti-ag lean to it, and coming from Europe it’s all in metric, but the facts and statistics within are rich and varied. If you’re interested in the way we grow and process animals for human consumption, then please read the entire report, but below is an executive summary of sorts with some of the most powerful and intriguing facts about the meat we eat.


Page 10: “In the USA, the number of pig raisers fell by 70 percent between 1992 and 2009, while the pig population remained the same.”

Page 11:
Top 5 Beef Producers – USA, Brazil, European Union, China, India

Top 5 Pork Producers – China, European Union, USA, Brazil, Russia

Top 5 Poultry Producers – USA, China, Brazil, European Union, Russia

Meat Atlas Meat Production

Page 12: JBS SA is the world’s largest beef producer, and “its worldwide capacities can slaughter 85,000 head of cattle, 70,000 pigs, and 12 million birds. Every day.”

Page 13: Revenue of top 3 meat companies in the world (JBS/Tyson/Cargill): $104.5 billion combined. The rest of the top 10: $85.3 billion combined.

Meat Atlas Meat Industry

Page 14: Between 1967 and 2010, the number of slaughterhouses in the United States fell from almost 10,000 to less than 3,000.

Slaughterhouses in US chart

Page 15: in 2011, China ate 11.5 billion animals. Based on the 2011 population of 1.346 billion people, that’s 8.5 animals per year per person.

In 2011, the US ate 9 billion animals. Based on the 2011 population of 312 million people, that’s 29 animals per year per person.

Page 25: Sixty percent of beef cattle raised in the world are of three breeds: Angus, Hereford, and Simmental.

Meat Atlas Breed Share

Page 28: It takes about 1,850 gallons of water to produce one 16 oz. steak.

2000 gallong water truck

A 2000 gallon water truck

Page 41: Only Australians eat more chicken per capita than the US. Chickens “are the world’s most numerous bird species.”

Page 46: Per capita meat consumption in the US fell by 9% between 2007-2012.

Meat Atlas Meat Trend Graph

Page 56: About 5% of the US population is vegan or vegetarian.

Page 59: Edible percentage of animals:

Crickets 80%

Poultry 55%

Pigs 55%

Cattle 40%

Meat Atlas Meat Efficiency

It’s clear that meat production has a huge impact on water consumption and land use, but we’re not going to stop eating burgers (or barbecue) because of that. From their report, the FOEE seems to prefer if more of us were vegetarians, but they do briefly address sustainable farming. “Meat can be produced by keeping animals on pasture instead of in buildings, and by producing feed locally rather than shipping it thousands of kilometers.” That’s true, but we’d all just have to be happy paying a lot more for our next barbecue sandwich.



    Ken Goldenberg says:

    Amazing how much water it takes to produce one steak – but I’m not sure by that statistic if the same amount of water would produce more than one steak. If that was totally true, than would an average brisket use perhaps 15 times that amount of water? All parts of the steer grow at the same rate – right? Hmmmmmm

      Daniel Vaughn says:

      Ken – That stat was a conversion from liters and kilograms to gallons and ounces, but it takes about 2000 gallons of water to create a pound of grain-fed meat. That water use mounts when you factor in the irrigation required for grain, water consumed by the animals, and water used to maintain the feedlots.

        Ken Goldenberg says:

        Wow – As much as I love beef, I can see why, especially here in California, the beef industry is having a lot of trouble (and so all the agriculture in central Cal.)

          JAMES HORN says:

          I dont see what corn growing has to do with beef production. The trouble with beef production is the intensive feed lot fattening of cattle. Cattle should be on grass or crops their whole lives. There would be less beef produced , it would become much more expensive and farmers would therefore receive a good amount per kilo instead of the pittance they receive now. People would eat less meat and that would save lives.

            Ken Goldenberg says:

            James, while your point is well taken, and I certainly do not know the cattle situation in Australia, here in the US most of the cattle are started in grass, then finished on corn feed. To be honest, it’s what gives American beef a deep rich flavor that most here prefer, even in side by side taste tests.
            But one of the main reasons is that corn fields have become so dominate that there are far less open plains fir grazing than there were just a few decades ago.
            We have created in this country, right or wrong, fairly low food prices compared to other similar countries. In fact even here in high- priced California I can often find USDA Choice beef, such as Tri-tip roast ( wonderful I might add) for as little as $4 per pound US. I can go to Costco during the holidays and find a prime rib roast for $10-12 per pound.

            My point — corn growing in the US has everything to do with beef prices (and tortillas … and cereal … and countless other food an non-food items) Corn is huge here. And yes, we love our beef and there is no barbecue better than what we do here!

            Sent from my iPad

            Ken Goldenberg says:

            Oh yes… How could I forget our most important corn product : BOURBON!!!

            JAMES HORN says:

            WOW Ken, I must go out and plant some corn.

            Around here most cattle are fattened on grass, Lucerne crops or oat crops etc. Some go to the feed lots. I agree that meat from grain fed cattle may taste better but the public these days want leaner meat so grain fed meat is not the way to go. Am I correctly assuming that your cattle “finished on corn” are lot fed. i.e. put in yards or small areas and fed grain.

            Ken Goldenberg says:

            Hi James,
            Yes for the most part cattle spend there last weeks in a feed lots, some huge.
            As for leaner meat… A honestly think that trend has past in favor of, well… Flavor! I think the public is seeking quality, and in many cases want the fat back in their meat. This is certainly true with pork as more restaurants, barbecue places are using the fattier “heritage” pork. For decades the meat industry, especially pork were breeding the fat out because they wanted to compete with leaner chicken and fish. So we ended up with tasteless meat! The biggest increase has been in BBQ and bacon!

            Being that our comments began in the TMBBQ site, perhaps the writer and curator if this site,, Daniel Vaughn can comment on this much better than I can

            Daniel Vaughn says:

            Most of the cattle in this country are fed on grass until they are over a year old before they are sold to a feed lot operator. There, they are fed on grain (mostly corn) for the final three months of their life before they are slaughtered. The average corn-fed steer is slaughtered at 18 months and is well-marbled compared to the grass-fed cattle that are slaughtered at around 32 months. Beef fed only on grass takes longer to mature and is much leaner. The trend in Europe might be toward leaner beef, but there’s still a very large appetite in the US for more marbled beef. There have even been some barbecue joints in Europe who have told me of their struggle to find beef that is fatty enough, and some have gone to importing from the US.

      JAMES HORN says:

      We breed grass fed cattle on a farm in Australia. The cows drink from dams filled by rainwater. We are 43 kilometers from the nearest town so none of that water could be saved for use by people. Cows poo and pee on the ground returning some water to the ground. At the slaughterhouse millions of gallons of water is returned to the ground from the slaughtered cattle. Humans poo and pee and that water is returned to the ocean or ground. Stating that 1850 gallons of water is used to produce a 16oz steak is just pure brain washing propaganda put out by
      people trying to convert us to vegetarianism.

        Ron Amundson says:

        Beef trade associations advertise a figure of 500 gallons per lb rather than 2000, but its still an insane amount of water usage. It would not be that big a deal if it was rainwater… but when you have to pump down aquifers in order to grow corn where it wouldn’t normally be possible, sooner or later its going to come back to bite…. and in many areas of the US, its already happening.

          USisLiberal says:

          Key to that calculation: Corn production. As James alludes to above, grass-fed cattle return a good bit of water to the ground, and I’ll add, loaded with nutrients that promote soil biota services to the pastures. The grass-fed paradigm is in line with the natural circle of a sustainable ecosystem. Water consumption, animal growth and excrement were always part of the natural pattern of life. Taking the animals out of that dynamic and feeding them intensely from an environmentally degrading crop like corn throws the dynamic way off balance. Hence the legitimacy to the water use claim when talking strictly corn-fed, feedlot beef.

          And, to put it all in perspective, I believe it takes about 180 gallons of water to keep one human alive for a year. Or about 14,000 gallons over an average 78 year lifespan X (for the U.S.) 300 million. And most of it wounds up in the oceans.

          Keeping humanity alive and fed requires a lot of fresh water.

    OhSoRight says:

    This article made me hungry for a Carl’s Western Bacon Cheeseburger!

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