Consumption of meat, dairy, fish and seafood

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-361-en
Also known as: SCP 020
Created 03 Dec 2014 Published 07 Dec 2016 Last modified 05 Jan 2017
15 min read
Consumption of meat per person increased by 2 %, milk (excluding butter) by 6 %, and fish and seafood by 13 % between 1995 and 2011. The increase took place before 2008, while the consumption of these food categories has stabilised or slightly decreased since then. This general trend, however, masks a change in the types of meat and fish consumed. Within the meat category, consumption of beef has fallen by 13 %, while consumption of poultry products has increased by 23 %. Within the fish and seafood category, the main change is a growth in the consumption of freshwater fish by 95 % over the same period. Both bovine meat and cheese lead, on average, to significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than pig or poultry meat per kilogram. With the decrease in consumption of bovine meat and the simultaneous increase in consumption of cheese and poultry, no significant environmental benefits related to these changes are expected.

Key messages

Consumption of meat per person increased by 2 %, milk (excluding butter) by 6 %, and fish and seafood by 13 % between 1995 and 2011. The increase took place before 2008, while the consumption of these food categories has stabilised or slightly decreased since then. This general trend, however, masks a change in the types of meat and fish consumed. Within the meat category, consumption of beef has fallen by 13 %, while consumption of poultry products has increased by 23 %. Within the fish and seafood category, the main change is a growth in the consumption of freshwater fish by 95 % over the same period.

Both bovine meat and cheese lead, on average, to significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than pig or poultry meat per kilogram. With the decrease in consumption of bovine meat and the simultaneous increase in consumption of cheese and poultry, no significant environmental benefits related to these changes are expected.

Are we shifting towards a more environmentally favourable diet?

Consumption of meat and dairy products and total seafood

Food consumption
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Protein consumption
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Table
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Trends in consumption of selected food products (quantities)

Chart indicator
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Consumption of meat, dairy, and fish and seafood products increased gradually between 1995 and 2008, leading to associated changes in the environmental impacts of diets. After 2008, the consumption of these food categories seems to have stabilised.

Overall, meat consumption per person increased by around 2 % between 1995 and 2011. However, the composition of meat consumption has changed, both per capita and in terms of overall quantities. The average citizen in the EU-28 ate 2.3 kg less beef in 2011 than in 1995 (a 13 % decrease), but 4.0 kg more poultry (a 23 % increase) (Figure 1). Pork consumption remained relatively stable. Pork and cheese, followed by poultry, are the main sources of protein consumption from animal based foods in Europe (Figure 1).

Regarding dairy products, about 6 % more milk products (excluding butter) were consumed in 2011 than in 1995 (Figure 2) although actual direct consumption of whole milk fell by about 14 kg (or approximately 14 litres) per person. This is counter-balanced by an increased consumption of cheese and cream (Figure 1).

Different meat and dairy products also lead to significantly different environmental impacts. For example, (intensively farmed) beef leads to seven times the greenhouse gas emissions, a six times greater nature occupancy and a four times higher eutrophication loading than an equal amount of poultry meat. Pork lies somewhere between the two for almost all impact categories (Weidema et al., 2008). It should also be noted that although poultry generally leads to lower environmental pressures than beef, animal welfare issues related to intensive methods of poultry rearing should also be taken into account, particularly in the light of growing poultry consumption. Secondly, beef from extensive cattle farming can have positive biodiversity effects in upland and nutrient poor areas of Europe.

The production of dairy products such as cheese and milk also leads to significant environmental impacts. Cheese production causes impacts at a similar scale to beef per kg consumed. As such, the 28 % increase in cheese consumption (an extra 3.8 kg per capita in 2011 compared with 1995) more than offsets the environmental benefits from the decrease in consumption of beef described above.

On average, Europeans ate about 2.7 kg more fish and seafood in 2011 than in 1995. About 1.8 kg of this increase was as a result of the consumption of freshwater fish, which increased by 95 %. The remaining 0.9 kg of increased fish and seafood consumption comprised crustaceans (e.g. prawns and mussels), cephalopods (e.g. squid) and pelagic (bottom dwelling) fish. 

EU imports of the majority of fish and crustacean products, mostly processed fish, increased by 44 % to nearly 5 million tonnes between 2000 and 2010. Aquaculture in Europe accounts for approximately 20 % of fish production. As aquaculture production in the EU-28 has been steady since 1995, increasing consumption has been met by imports (EEA, 2014). 

It is difficult to assess the environmental implications of the increasing consumption of fish and seafood in the EU as these are dependent on which fish species are being consumed, the changing status of the stock of that species and the fishing methods used. Different fishing methods can have significantly different environmental impacts. Across Europe, around 58 % of the assessed commercial fish stocks are designated as being in Good Environmental Status, but this varies considerably between regional seas (EEA CSI 032).

Given the relevance and implications to human health of meat, dairy, fish and seafood consumption, the potential environmental and health co-benefits as well as the related conflicts and trade-offs should be explored when considering (policy) options to reduce the environmental pressures of food consumption. Reducing red meat consumption and a shift to other sources of protein has the potential to reduce the EU's environmental footprint while also delivering health benefits (EuroHealthNet, 2013). The average protein available for consumption through meat, fish and dairy products was 61 g/person/day in 2011, while 104 g/person/day was accounted for by plant based proteins (FAOSTAT, 2016). 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 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 much higher than 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. 

It is important to note that consumption levels within these food groups vary greatly between European countries. Absolute levels of meat consumption per capita across the EU-28 also differ, ranging from 53 kg/year in Bulgaria to 106 kg/year in Austria in 2011. 

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator shows consumption of selected meat, dairy, fish and seafood products by weight in the EU-28. Consumption is shown in both kg/capita/year (Figure 1) and as an index of the per capita amount consumed (Figure 2).

Figure 1 shows the change in consumption of meat, dairy, fish and seafood between 1995 and the most recent data point. Meat is disaggregated into bovine meat, pig meat, poultry, mutton and goat meat, and other meat. Dairy is divided into whole milk, cream, cheese and butter. Fish and seafood consumption is disaggregated into demersal fish, pelagic fish, freshwater fish, and other fish and seafood. A separate tab shows the consumption by protein content.

Figure 2 shows the development of per capita consumption of bovine meat, pig and poultry meat, total meat, and aggregated fish and seafood, together with a single value for milk that represents all dairy products excluding butter. Figure 2 presents the development of the consumption of these products as an index to the reference year (1995).

Food consumption is drawn from the FAO statistics database. 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 due to wastage of edible food in households during storage, preparation and cooking, unused food leftovers and food fed to domestic animals and pets. 

Units

This indicator is expressed in kg per capita per year (kg/cappita/year) and as per capita consumption in tonnes indexed to the base year, 1995.


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 which 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 was agreed at the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20) with the adoption of the ten 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.

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.’
  • 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: The FAO data on Commodity Balance Sheets are used to calculate the supply of selected food products in kg/capita/year for two years: 1995 and the most recent data point in the FAO data set. The Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent dataset has been used. The item 'food' in the FAO dataset comprises the amounts of the commodity in question and of any commodities derived therefrom not further pursued in the food balance sheet that are available for human consumption during the reference period. The quantities of food 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/cap/d, which is then converted to kg/capita/year.

Figure 2: Raw data from the FAO’s Commodity Balance Sheets are indexed to 1995 for selected food groups. The Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent dataset has been used. The item 'food' in the dataset comprises the amounts of the commodity in question and of any commodities derived therefrom not further pursued in the food balance sheet that are available for human consumption during the reference period. The quantities of food 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 supply for food uses is assumed to proxy 'consumption'. The per capita EU-28 consumption is indexed to 1995 by dividing 100 by the value for the based year (1995) 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.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling was required.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

The selection of dairy products used to represent the dairy food group in Figure 1 (whole milk, cheese, butter and cream) does not cover all dairy consumption, only the delivery of these final products to households. Data are not available on the consumption of all dairy products individually. It is for this reason that the more all-encompassing category 'milk (excluding butter)' is used in Figure 2. This includes all derivatives of milk (excluding butter), as well as milk sold directly to households.

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 basic 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 (ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/011/x9892e/x9892e00.pdf)

The FAO statistical database is used in preference to the Eurostat database. This is because the Eurostat data currently have significant temporal and geographical data gaps, as well as some suspicious data points. This situation is not anticipated to improve in the foreseeable future.

Rationale uncertainty

The 'food' item from the FAO commodity balance sheets is used as a proxy for actual consumed food that describes a diet. The amount of food 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

2012 2.5.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

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