People in Germany consumed less meat in 2021 than ever before in the past 30 years. The Federal Office of Agriculture and Food (BLE) reported a total of 55 kilograms per capita for the past year—yet another 2.1 kilograms less than in 2020, which had previously been considered the year of the record low. The Federal Office has been publishing these data since 1991. The peak value was reached in 1993, at 64.4 kilograms of meat per capita and year. Since then, the value has fluctuated repeatedly, however steadily decreased as a whole.
Pork consumption has declined the most compared to last year (1.2 kg), followed by beef (600 g) and poultry (200 g). The decline of poultry is particularly noteworthy because until recently its consumption had increased. This positive trend is due to various factors.
Crises raise awareness
The reduced meat consumption can certainly be attributed in part to an increasing awareness of its negative aspects. More and more people realize how much the animals suffer and how intensive animal farming contributes to the destruction of the environment, global warming, and world hunger. According to a report on eating behavior and nutrition published by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), more than half of the population (55%) considers themselves to be flexitarians, deliberately choosing not to eat meat at least some of the time.
Again and again, there are reports of the meat industry’s crumbling reputation. In addition to the above-mentioned ethical and ecological problems, this may also be because of epidemics such as African swine fever and avian influenza. Mass farming of animals benefits outbreaks of epidemics and makes for negative headlines, for example when entire animal populations get »culled«.
Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has created special circumstances. Not only have the atrocious working conditions in the meat industry been brought to the focus of public attention. As a result of lockdowns, the trend towards working remotely, and many events being canceled, more people returned to cooking at home. 30% of the respondents interviewed for the report by the BMEL stated that they were cooking more themselves than before the pandemic. They may have been more likely to opt for meatless meals at home than if they had been eating out.
The impact of demographic change
Another reason for the decline may lie in the demographic change: every second person in Germany is over the age of 45, every fifth person is over the age of 66. Additionally, the people in Germany are living ever longer. Elderly people tend to eat less and may be changing their eating behavior as well, for example because of illnesses. According to the report by the BMEL, especially the respondents aged 60 and above consume more fruit and vegetables than the average population.
The younger generations, on the other hand, are more politically aware and hence more critical of animal products. According to the Meat Atlas, an annual report on the methods and impact of industrial animal agriculture, published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth Europe, the number of vegetarians and vegans is highest among the age group of 15- to 29-year-olds, with a tendency to rise. The »Fridays for Future« movement certainly plays a role here. At the same time, according to the BMEL, younger Germans are more open towards the increasing variety of plant-based and other alternatives to conventional meat and milk products.
Unfortunately, on a global scale, Germany’s trend away from meat is not shared by most countries. According to the Meat Atlas, meat consumption worldwide has more than doubled in the past 20 years. This is mainly due to the fact that former developing and emerging countries are catching up in terms of living standards and approaching those of the Western industrialized nations. Per capita consumption is also growing in China, the world’s most populous country. Nevertheless, it is still low there by comparison—currently about half that of the USA.
Nevertheless: Germany is not entirely alone. In other industrialized nations such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, and Italy, the average per capita consumption has also been declining more or less steadily in the past years. Experience shows: it is true that meat consumption increases with prosperity. From a certain point on, however, prosperity and education tend to lead to a more critical approach regarding the animal industry. Therefore, spreading information about factory farming is one of our most important goals.