Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The other day, I posted this graph which included the fraction of global cereal production going for animal feed:
I was surprised to see that the fraction of cereal going for animal feed had been gradually declining for decades. News stories are constantly talking about the rise of meat consumption in China and other developing countries putting pressure on agricultural commodity prices, so I was expecting to see that fraction rising, not falling.
This post has some graphs exploring the question further. In particular, using the FAO Food Supply data, I computed the ratio of dietary calories coming from animal products (that is, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products). First, here is a selection of important developing countries:
You can see that most of them are rising, with China being the most spectacular. Over the weekend, there was a discussion in comments of the China Study: one thing that's clear is that the diet measured in China in the 1980s has changed profoundly since. Not all countries are changing so rapidly, however. For example, India seems to be engaged almost in a great natural experiment with China: animal product consumption there is rising much more slowly. It will be interesting to contrast the progress of industrialized country disease rates in the two countries as the consequences of the dietary and other changes are felt in coming decades.
Turning to developed countries, we can see that on the whole the trend is in the opposite direction:
Italy and Japan look more like late arrivals in the developed country club, but the long standing members of that club are, for the most part, moving away from animal products. I would guess that this is due to the perception that these products, high in saturated fat, are contributors to heart disease, etc. All these countries have become substantially wealthier over the last forty years, so they certainly have not been economically constrained to eat less animal products.
For the world as a whole, the net effect is a very small, gradual rise in the overall fraction of calories coming from animal products: