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MURDER BY NUMBERS: Latest global animal slaughter statistics and charts

In total, the number of these species of land animals slaughtered in 2020 was 73,162,794,213 — a 2.8% increase over 2018, when the number was 71,145,623,131.

KAROL ORZECHOWSKI: In 2020, we published a comprehensive blog looking at the number of animals slaughtered globally for food every year, based on United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data that had been released up to 2018. This blog presents updated charts from the same dataset, using the latest numbers from 2019 and 2020.

As in 2020, the animal groups we focus on are cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and fishes. The data for land animals is part of the FAOSTAT database from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Meanwhile, the data for fish was pulled from the database “Global Production By Production Source 1950-2020,” which can be found in FishStatJ, the software for fishery and aquaculture from the FAO.

As has traditionally been the case, FAOSTAT database counts land animals by the individual animal slaughtered — this is not the case for the fish, who are measured in live weight (units are either tonnes or kilograms). To avoid confusion or inaccurate comparisons, we’ve opted to include a separate time series for fish, which can be found in the second tab in the interactive line charts.

It’s easy to see that chickens are by far the most slaughtered land animal, followed by pigs, sheep, and cows. This may seem counterintuitive to the visual representation, because the chicken line is the lowest on the chart. However, because chickens are slaughtered in such vast numbers, each unit of measurement counts for 1,000 individuals — this is how the UN FAO presents their data, as well. If we presented the data for chickens without this adjustment, then all of the other animal measurements would be proportionally flattened at the bottom of the chart, with only the chicken line being legible. That is how stark the difference in numbers is.

It’s also easy to see an anomaly in the data — a significant dip in the number of pigs slaughtered globally, by about 141 million individuals in 2019, attributable to Asia in particular. There was a significant outbreak of swine fever across Asia in 2018/2019, which could serve as an explanation. However, it’s been difficult to track down official numbers. News articles such as this one have noted that the outbreak and resultant culling were significant enough to cause global pig meat prices to rise by 40%, and that countries were culling significant percentages of their total herds — Vietnam, for example, culled about 6% of the pigs in the country.

Meanwhile, this study estimated that the outbreak and culling resulted in economic losses to China that amounted to 0.78% of that country’s entire GDP, and that any official numbers were likely to be underreported for various reasons. Indeed, pig slaughter for food in China dropped by 21% from 2018 to 2019, followed by a 30% increase from 2019 to 2020 (or a 3% increase from 2018 to 2020). In other words, as of 2020, pig slaughter has resumed its upward trend.

In total, the number of these species of land animals slaughtered in 2020 was 73,162,794,213 — a 2.8% increase over 2018, when the number was 71,145,623,131 — but actually a 2% decrease from 2019 when the number was 74,669,379,926. During the period of 2018-2020, the global population increased by 2.13%.

Through this, we can observe that per capita sheep and chicken consumption is rising slightly since our last update in 2018, while per capita cow consumption is trending downwards. Meanwhile, per capita pig consumption has spiked back upwards again, but is still below 2018 levels. SOURCE…


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