UK meat supply


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishes an overview of agriculture in the UK every year called Agriculture in the United Kingdom. It contains an extensive range of data including farm incomes, land use, livestock numbers, prices, production of key commodities (eg meat, milk and vegetables), overseas trade, organic farming and the environment. The information is used widely by government, industry, researchers and other stakeholders to support policy monitoring and development. It is also possible to build up a picture of meat consumption in the UK over time using data from these reports.

Figure 8.0 Trends in total meat supply (total quantity available after imports and exports are accounted for) in the UK from 2007-2014.

Source: Defra, 2012 and 2015a.

Figure 8.0 shows that the consumption of sheep, cattle and pigs in the UK has declined in recent years while the consumption of poultry has increased. The figures are quite erratic for cattle and calves, but the overall trend (shown on the graph as a linear trend line) gives a good indication of what the overall trend in consumption is over time. The drop in meat consumption seen in all four categories in 2008/2009 may reflect the drop in income many experienced during the financial crash of that period. The drop in beef consumption seen in 2013 is probably linked to the horsemeat scandal of that year. However, the overall trend in meat-reduction reflects a growing awareness of the links between meat-eating and human disease as well as an increasing number of people rejecting the slaughter of animals for food thanks to the campaigning work and undercover exposés undertaken by Viva!  

The steady decline in meat consumption in the UK is evident from other sources too. Defra publish a UK household consumption dataset that provides detailed statistics on household purchases per person per week going all the way back to 1974 (Defra, 2015). 

Table 14.0 Types of carcase and non-carcase meat as categorised by Defra.

Defra, 2015.

Defra’s dataset separates carcase meat and non-carcase meat (see Table 14.0). Carcase meat may be bought as a joint or a piece of meat attached to a bone to be fried or roasted, like a steak or a leg of lamb. Pork chops are a smaller item that can be grilled or fried but are also classed as carcase meat. Offal is classed as non-carcase meat, liver for example. All poultry is classed as non-carcase meat, so chicken, turkey, takeaway and ready meals made with chicken or turkey are included. All sausages, pies and meat-based ready meals are classed as non-carcase meat.

Figure 9.0 Quantity of carcase, non-carcase and total meat purchased for UK households from 1974-2013.

Source: Defra, 2015.

Figure 9.0 shows a steady decline in the quantity of carcase meat purchased for UK households. The trend line suggests that since 1974, the amount of carcase meat purchased, per person per week, has fallen by 265g (the equivalent of a portion of roast beef, a lamb chop and a medium rump steak). On the other hand, the amount of non-carcase meat has increased per person per week by 146g (the equivalent of a quarter-pounder beef burger, one sausage and one rasher of bacon OR six chicken nuggets and a chicken drumstick). However, taken together, total meat consumption in the UK has dropped by more than 10 per cent (119g per person per week) since 1974 (Defra, 2015).