Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” It appears the same can be said for the widespread perception that Americans on average have turned against eating meat.
“There’s a misnomer out there that meat consumption is falling. But the statistics show otherwise,” said Tim Petry, North Dakota State University livestock marketing economist.
Some of the statistics are included in a December report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. It finds that per-capita availability — an indirect measure of consumption — of red meat, poultry and seafood is rising in the United States.
Among the findings:
The per capita supply of red meat, poultry and fish/shellfish available for Americans to eat after adjusting for losses (such as spoilage and plate loss) rose from 133.5 pounds in 2014 to 143.9 pounds in 2017.
Red meat (beef, pork, veal and lamb) accounted for 51% of 2017’s 143.9-pound total, compared with 42% for poultry (chicken and turkey) and 7% for fish and shellfish.
Over 2015-2017, beef had the largest percentage increase in per capita loss-adjusted availability — growing by 6%. That reflects recovering consumer income after the 2007-2009 recession and stable or declining prices.
“Consumers still like beef. They’re still eating it,” Petry said.
To be sure, food availability per capita data doesn’t measure actual consumption. But it does provide an indirect measure of trends in food use and is an indication of whether Americans, on average, are consuming more or less of various foods over time, according to the ERS.
If you're wondering, food availability is “calculated by adding total annual production, imports and beginning stocks of a particular commodity and then subtracting exports, ending stocks and nonfood uses. Per capita estimates are calculated using population estimates for that particular year,” the Economic Research Service said.
Chicken and, to a lesser extent, turkey are long-term stars in U.S. meat consumption, the ERS report noted.
Loss-adjusted turkey availability doubled from 4 pounds per capita in 1970 to 8.2 pounds per capita in 1989, and has remained between 8 and 9 pounds since then.
Loss-adjusted chicken availability rose from 22.4 pounds per capita in 1970 to 52.3 pounds per capita in 2017.
More efficient chicken and turkey production has led to lower bird mortality rates and a higher average weight per bird, boosting supplies and holding down prices, the ERS report said.
Changing consumer tastes and preferences also are a factor, Petry said.
For example, chicken wings once held little appeal to many consumers. Over time, however, they’ve become very popular, he said.
One thing that hasn't changed is meat’s popularity with consumers, he said.
“People continue to like and eat meat,” he said, adding that rising meat production is contributing to relatively plentiful and affordable supplies.