Food consumption — animal based protein

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-361-en
Also known as: SCP 020
Created 03 Nov 2017 Published 06 Dec 2017 Last modified 06 Dec 2017
11 min read
The per-person total animal protein consumption in the EU remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2013. It increased modestly up to 2007 and reduced slightly after that year. EU citizens, on average, covered more of their protein needs with fish and seafood, and cheese in 2013 than in 2000. Meat consumption shifted from beef to poultry. Bovine meat and cheese have a higher environmental footprint per kg than poultry meat, so the trend in related environmental impact is less clear.

Key messages

The per-person total animal protein consumption in the EU remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2013. It increased modestly up to 2007 and reduced slightly after that year. EU citizens, on average, covered more of their protein needs with fish and seafood, and cheese in 2013 than in 2000. Meat consumption shifted from beef to poultry. Bovine meat and cheese have a higher environmental footprint per kg than poultry meat, so the trend in related environmental impact is less clear.

Are we moving towards a more environmentally favourable diet?

Trends in consumption of selected animal-based food products (protein consumption)

Chart indicator
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Average per-person protein consumption from selected meat, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products, EU

Protein consumption
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Protein consumption from animal-based food per person remained relatively stable from 2000-2013 in the EU (Fig. 1). It increased modestly up to 2007 and reduced slightly after that year. However, this trend masks a diverging development in consumption of protein from different types of animal products: consumption of protein from cheese and poultry increased by about 15 % while bovine meat decreased by nearly 14 %. EU citizens on average also covered more of their protein needs with fish and seafood in 2013 than in 2000.

European dietary changes may have been brought about by increasing awareness of healthier diets, as well as price changes.

Cheese and pig meat are the preferred animal based protein sources in the EU, followed by poultry, milk and bovine meat (Fig. 2). Fish and seafood contribute 11 % to animal based protein supply. On average, an EU citizen consumed 22 kg per year of animal-based proteins and 16 kg per year of plant-based proteins (FAOSTAT, 2017a, b).

The average protein available for consumption through meat, fish and dairy products was 60 g/person/day in 2013, while 43 g/person/day was accounted for by plant based proteins (FAOSTAT, 2017a, b). It is challenging to compare these numbers directly with dietary recommendations. The WHO and FAO define a safe minimum level of protein intake of 0.83 g/kg of a person's weight per day of both animal based and plant based food to meet the requirements of 97.5 % of the healthy adult population (WHO, 2007). This gives a rough indication that average protein intake across the whole EU population is well above the minimum for a healthy life. However, recommended protein intake also depends on protein quality, and the data on the amounts for protein available for consumption also include food that is wasted and thus are higher than what is actually consumed. 

Different food products have very different environmental footprints. Intensively farmed beef has a carbon footprint seven times that of poultry; land use and eutrophication loading are six times and four times higher, respectively, per kilogram of beef than of poultry; the environmental footprint of pork lies somewhere between the two for most impact categories (Weidema et al., 2008); and the carbon footprint and land use for cheese production lies between pig meat and beef (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2011). Animal welfare issues related to intensive methods of pig and poultry rearing are also a consideration when evaluating impact. In addition, while grazing animals can contribute positively to the biodiversity of agricultural land, overgrazing contributes to a lack of improvement in the conservation status of habitats associated with agricultural ecosystems (EEA, 2016a).

In terms of consumption amounts of animal products (i.e. not just protein), the average EU citizen ate 2.2 kg less bovine meat in 2013 than in 2000 (a 13 % decrease), but 3.0 kg more poultry (a 15 % increase), with pork consumption remaining relatively stable (FAOSTAT, 2017a). This shift will have led to a reduction in environmental impacts but this may have been somewhat offset by a 2.2 kg per capita increase in cheese consumption. The shift from beef to poultry is also in line with health guidelines guarding against cardiovascular disease (EuroHealthNet, 2013).

The EU citizen ate on average about 1.7 kg more fish and seafood in 2013 than in 2000, an 8 % increase. Consumption of fish accounted for approximately 1.5 kg of this increase (FAOSTAT, 2017a). The remaining increase in fish and seafood consumption comprised mainly crustaceans (e.g. prawns, mussels) and cephalopods (e.g. squid). The increase in the consumption of fish and seafood during this period is in line with healthy eating advice, as long as the fish and seafood are not too heavily contaminated with hazardous substances.

It is difficult to assess the environmental implications of this trend. The EU imported around 55 % of its fish and seafood in 2013 from all continents of the world (EEA, 2016b), while northern Europe being the largest supplier of fish and seafood. Fish and seafood is supplied both by capture fisheries and aquaculture. Globally, more and more fish and seafood is produced in aquaculture, while capture production has stabilised since the 1990s (EEA, 2016b). Aquaculture generates, inter alia, emissions of nutrients, antibiotics and fungicides and relies on capture fisheries for feed (EEA, 2017b); however, aquaculture is still one of the most efficient methods to convert feed into edible animal protein (EEA, 2016b).

On the other hand, the environmental status of around 74 % of the assessed fish stocks in Europe's seas is not good, i.e. they are being fished beyond safe biological limits (EEA, 2017c). Increasing consumption of fish and seafood might, thus, exacerbate the pressure on the marine environment both in Europe and beyond.

Finally, the increasing focus at both EU and country levels on reducing food waste through actions in the Circular Economy Package (EC, 2015) and the EU Member States’ waste prevention programmes is, nevertheless, a positive development.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator shows consumption of protein from selected meat, dairy, fish and seafood products in the EU-28. 

Figure 1 shows the development of per capita protein consumption from animal-based products, and sub-categories of meat, fish and seafood, eggs, and dairy products (excl. butter). Further sub-categories for meat are added. Data are indexed to the year 2000 (2000=100).

Figure 2 shows the change in consumption of protein from selected main categories of meat, dairy, fish and seafood between 2000 and the most recent data point. 

The data were extracted from the FAO balance sheets. The indicator is defined as the supply of these products to the final consumer. This provides a figure for 'food', which represents the amount of each product that reaches the consumer. The amount of food actually eaten will be lower than the quantity shown in the food balance sheet because of wastage of edible food in households during storage, preparation and cooking, unused food leftovers and food fed to domestic animals and pets.

The indicator shows protein consumption from animal based products instead of consumption of these products in weight because weight-based numbers are dominated by milk due to its high water content. Using protein in the indicator is also recommended in the European Commission Staff Working Document on the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (EC, 2011) for 'making food consumption healthier and more sustainable'.

Units

This indicator is expressed in per capita consumption in kg, indexed to the base year, 2000 (Fig. 1), and in kg/capita per year (Fig. 2).


Policy context and targets

Context description

Encouraging more sustainable diets and tackling food waste has begun to appear on political agendas in recent years at both EU and national levels. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe includes an 'Addressing Food' theme in which it is noted that the average European citizen wastes 180 kg of food per year, much of which is food that is still suitable for consumption. The Roadmap notes that 'a combined effort by farmers, the food industry, retailers and consumers through […] sustainable food choices (in line with WHO recommendations on the amount of animal proteins, including meat and dairy products consumed per person) and reduced food waste can contribute to improving resource efficiency and food security at a global level'.

The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe includes a milestone that 'by 2020, incentives to healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption will be widespread and will have driven a 20 % reduction in the food chain’s resource inputs. Disposal of edible food waste should have been halved in the EU'.

The EU’s Seventh Environmental Action Programme (7th EAP) has the follwing aim: 'To set a framework for action to improve resource efficiency aspects beyond greenhouse gas emissions and energy, targets for reducing the overall lifecycle environmental impact of consumption will be set, in particular in the food, housing and mobility sectors' and states that 'structural changes in production, technology and innovation, as well as consumption patterns and lifestyles have reduced the overall environmental impact of production and consumption' for these three sectors.

The international policy framework for sustainable consumption and production (SCP) was agreed at the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20) with the adoption of the 10-year framework of programmes on SCP. The declaration 'The future we want' recognises the need to change unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and promote sustainable ones. With respect to food, due to the global nature of the document, the declaration focuses on food security and undernourishment rather than on sustainable diets, overeating or food waste. However, these issues are closely linked, given the global competition for resources to produce food. 'Sustainable consumption and production' and 'End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture' are two of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015. 

Targets

No quantitative targets have been identified but the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571 contains a relevant milestone, and the EU's 7th Environment Action Programme calls for the reduction of the overall environmental impact on consumption including from food.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy COM/2015/0614 final
    COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy
  • Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
    A/70/L.1
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.  COM(2011) 571  
  • The Future We Want –Declaration of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio (2012)
    The Future We Want is the declaration on sustainable development and a green economy adopted at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio on June 19, 2012. The Declaration includes broad sustainability objectives within themes of Poverty Eradication, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture, Energy, Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Cities, Health and Population and Promoting Full and Productive Employment. It calls for the negotiation and adoption of internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals by end 2014. It also calls for a UN resolution strengthening and consolidating UNEP both financially and institutionally so that it can better disseminate environmental information and provide capacity building for countries.

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Figure 1: Raw data from the FAO’s Food Balance Sheets are indexed to 2000 for selected food groups. The Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent dataset has been used. The element 'protein' in the dataset comprises the amounts of protein contained in the commodity in question, and of any commodities derived therefrom, that are not further pursued in the food balance sheet and that are available for human consumption during the reference period. The quantities of protein available for human consumption, as estimated in the food balance sheet, reflect only the quantities reaching the consumer. The amount of protein actually consumed may be lower than the quantity shown in the food balance sheet depending on the degree of losses of edible food and nutrients in the household, e.g. during storage, in preparation and cooking (which affect vitamins and minerals to a greater extent than they do calories, protein and fat), as plate waste, or quantities fed to domestic animals and pets, or thrown away. This supply for protein uses is assumed to be proxy 'consumption'. The per capita EU-28 consumption is indexed to 2000 by dividing 100 by the value for the base year (2000) and multiplying by the value for year X. The figures for fish and seafood are summed to form a single final category for fish and seafood rather than individual figures.

Figure 2: The FAO data on Commodity Balance Sheets are used to calculate the supply of protein in selected food products in kg/capita per year for two years; 2000 and the most recent data point in the FAO data set. The Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent data set has been used. The element 'protein' in the FAO data set comprises the amounts of protein contained in the commodity in question and of any commodities derived therefrom that are not further pursued in the food balance sheet and that are available for human consumption during the reference period. The quantities of protein available for human consumption, as estimated in the food balance sheet, reflect only the quantities reaching the consumer. The amount of food actually consumed may be lower than the quantity shown in the food balance sheet depending on the degree of losses of edible food and nutrients in the household, e.g. during storage, in preparation and cooking (which affect vitamins and minerals to a greater extent than they do calories, protein and fat), as plate waste, or quantities fed to domestic animals and pets, or thrown away. This data set is used as the most useful available proxy for 'consumption'. This is carried out for the EU-28. The raw data are delivered in g/capita per day, which is then converted to kg/capita per year.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling was required.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No methodological uncertainty identified.

Data sets uncertainty

The accuracy of the FAO data set for consumption of different meat, dairy, fish and seafood products depends on the reliability of the underlying statistics on the utilisation of foods and the nutritional value of foods. Supply and utilisation quantities are most open to uncertainty because of a lack of accurate data on food stocks and food used for purposes other than human consumption, in particular. For a more detailed discussion on the quality of the data in the FAO food balance sheets, please see p.6 of the FAO Food Balance Sheets Handbook (http://www.fao.org/3/a-x9892e.pdf).

The FAO statistical database is used in preference to the Eurostat database. This is because the Eurostat data is based on FAO data and only shows calories but not protein supply.

Rationale uncertainty

The 'food (protein)' item from the FAO commodity balance sheets is used as a proxy for actual consumed food that describes a diet. The amount of protein actually eaten will be lower than the quantity shown in the food balance sheet due to wastage of edible food in households during storage, preparation and cooking, unused food leftovers and food fed to domestic animals and pets.

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
, ,
DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SCP 020
Temporal coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Almut Reichel

EEA Management Plan

2017 2.1.3 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100