Red & processed meat

Highest in industrialised countries

Sources: WHO and FAO

Annual meat production is predicted to rise from a level of 218 million tonnes recorded in 1999 to 376 million tonnes by 2030. There is a strong and positive relationship between the level of income and the consumption of animal protein, with the consumption of meat, milk and eggs highest in industrialised countries.

Global trends

Global patterns of meat consumption reveal trends towards increased meat consumption. This is of interest in terms of cancer prevention, as the consumption of red and processed meat has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and processed meat with an increased risk of stomach non-cardia cancer. Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations encourage people to limit their consumption of red meat to less than 500g a week, with very little if any of this being processed. These recommendations arise from the WCRF/AICR Second Expert Report that systematically reviewed the evidence linking patterns of food and diet to cancer risk.

Until the recent food price crisis in 2008 there had been a steep decline in relative price of meat. As a result developing countries embarked on higher meat consumption at much lower levels of gross domestic product – average consumption in developing countries more than doubled from 1964-1999, increasing from 10.2 kg per capita/per year to 25.5 kg. This is forecast to reach 36.7 kg by 2030.

Increased meat consumption in Brazil and China

There has been a remarkable increase in meat consumption in countries such as Brazil and China, for example, although levels are still well below the levels of consumption in the United States, France, Spain and most other industrialised countries (see fig 1). A break down of meat consumption by regions of the world (see fig 2) reveals significant increases in meat consumption in developing countries, with Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia seeing particularly large increases. Forecasts are for this pattern of growth to continue.

It is not clear at this stage what the implications of this transition to increased meat consumption at the population level will be for cancer and specifically colorectal cancer. The effect on obesity and overweight is also unclear, as evidence indicates that diets with high levels of animal fat tend to be relatively high in energy and may lead to an increased risk of weight gain.

Trends in meat consumption over time (kg/per capita/per year) – selected countries

Fig. 1 Trends in meat consumption over time (kg/per capita/per year) – selected countries

(Source: FAO)

Trends in meat consumption over time (kg/per capita/per year) – by region

Fig. 2 Trends in meat consumption over time (kg/per capita/per year) – by region

(Source: WHO)