Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trends in Animal Product Consumption

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:


p01 said...

Re:China study

Seeing Stuart is a data-wiz, I would assume he would be interested in some number-crunching on the original China Study data:
The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?.
That's what the data says, really... no mater what we want to believe or have been conditioned to believe. I know it's unfortunate, but it's true. I would love to eat grains instead of big-eyed Bamby, but that's what we're meant to eat as a species. Sorry...


Stuart Staniford said...

Paul - as I indicated over the weekend, I don't consider myself competent to express an opinion on that particular dispute at this time.

p01 said...

Thank you for replying. That's why I posted the link to the data-crunching cutie's site :)


Stuart Staniford said...

Wow. On a slightly related theme, this Nature news item is amazing. Researchers did complete genetic sequencing of the tumors of 50 women. They found a total of 1700 mutations, but only three occurred in more than 10% of the cases (ie five women). Implication: every cancer is different - there are as many different ways for the cellular machinery to go wrong and end up growing uncontrollably as there are cancer cases.. So no magic drugs to stop cancer will be on the market any time soon...

BOP said...

All these countries have become substantially wealthier over the last forty years
Not correct. US disposable income has been flat or declining since the late 1970s and if I have the color code correct that is the one nation in which there has been a decline.

I suspect this is due both to individual purchase decisions (more cheap chicken than expensive steak) and corporate success in the creation of industrial food which is often less than it appears to be but is calculated to remain yummy regardless of low quality ingredient mix.

Stuart Staniford said...

BOP, if you look at line 38 of this table, you'll see that real disposable income per capita has increased from $15.2k/yr in 1970 to $33k/yr in 2010 (both expressed in 2005 dollars).

Geoff said...

The drop in calories from animal products seen in developed countries could be related to the rise in popularity of pre-packaged meals and more highly processed ingredients. A chicken nugget would have less animal product than a chicken leg for example.

Stuart Staniford said...

Commenter "Hal" wished to say the following, but ran into technical problems:

Blogger ate my earlier comment.

I was trying to respond to the link posted by p01. I did not try to read the entire article, but as the author suggested, jumped to the summary. If it's accurate, I think it's incorrect to say that her analysis suggests "Bamby... [is] what we're meant to eat as a species." She cast serious doubt on a study that I gather contends that amount of meat in the diet is correlated with cancer. That's a long way from saying anything about what we're "meant" to eat, even ignoring the obvious anthropomorphism.

The hypothesis is not supported doesn't mean the null is. Or something like that.

I'm saying this as someone who had Bambi for lunch and dinner, shot by yours truly about a quarter mile from where I sit.

BOP said...

There is considerable skew in the US income distribution. The top 10% of income earners have significantly increased their earnings, the middle class has hollowed out and the near poor have increased.

I suggest that the rise in disposable income reflects exactly this fact.

Stuart Staniford said...

BOP - it's quite true that income inequality in the US has increased in recent decades, but nonetheless, median household income has risen (even as the median size of a household has shrunk). Eg see: