Countries where beef production is defining

Global meat production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years. The US currently leads the world rankings for beef consumption, and Brazil is the leading exporter.  Beef production in a sustainable way is one of the most pressing challenges in the coming decades.

Meat is an important source of nutrition for many people around the world. Global demand for meat is growing: over the past 50 years, meat production has more than tripled. The world now produces more than 340 million tonnes each year.

340 million tons

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) tracks the production of 18 types of meat including camel, guinea fowl, and wild game, but only three are significant in global volume: beef, pork, and chicken. Global meat production in 2018 totaled 340 million tons; 302 million of that came from these three. Pork and chicken production are growing at a greater rate than beef production. 

Global meat production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years, total production has more than quadrupled since 1960. Dominant livestock types are poultry, cattle (which includes beef and buffalo meat), pig, and sheep & goat to a lesser extent. Globally, cattle meat production has more than doubled since 1961 – increasing from 28 million tonnes per year to 68 million tonnes in 2014. Although production of all major meat types have been increasing in absolute terms, in relative terms the share of global meat types have changed significantly over the last 50 years. Beef and buffalo meat as a share of total meat production has nearly halved, now accounting for around 22 percent.

The coronavirus pandemic has finally changed that trajectory. Growth in the former is slowing; the coronavirus pandemic certainly impacts the latter, although meat production didn’t fall even during the global financial crisis.

USDA forecast for 2021

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts that global beef production in 2021 could rise by 2% to 61.5 million tonnes. This is based on the USDA’s current forecast of global beef production this year of 60.4 million tonnes, which is 2% lower than 2019. The forecast growth in production in 2021 is expected to come as global economies strengthen, consumption improves and supply chains recover following on from disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2021 forecast is still slightly below pre-pandemic production levels seen in 2019 though.

In contrary, Rabobank’s latest Beef Quarterly has revised down its global beef production outlook, and forecasts slowing beef demand in a declining economy.

The motto of the future: sustainability

Feeding the world in a sustainable way is one of our most pressing challenges in the coming decades. Meat plays a pivotal role in this.  The production of meat has large environmental impacts: increasing greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural land and freshwater use. One of the world’s most pressing challenges is to produce and consume meat, dairy and other protein products in a way that reduces its environmental impacts.

The toplist

The world’s largest beef and buffalo meat producer is the United States, producing 12-13 million tonnes. Other major producers are the European Union, Brazil and China, followed by India, Argentina, Australia and Mexico.

In 2020, the United States was the largest producer of beef in the world, followed by Brazil and the European Union. Those three produced roughly 50% of the world’s beef in 2020, the US alone 21%.

The biggest beef producers
The biggest beef producers


Cattle production is the most important agricultural industry in the United States, accounting for $66.2 billion in cash receipts. Overall, cattle production represents about 18 percent of the $374 billion in total cash receipts forecast for agricultural commodities. The United States producing the most, 12.5 million tons of beef and veal in the world by some margin. Over the last two decades, the total U.S. beef production has fluctuated slightly but remained stable overall. The total beef production in the United States is estimated to reach 27.54 billion pounds in 2021, up from 27.15 billion pounds in the previous year.


Second up is Brazil, forecasted to produce 10.3 million tons. This value was 10.2 million in 2019 and 9.9 million in 2018. Specialists predict further growth by 2021: 10.5 million tons. Several sources expected that the volume of production will drop in 2020 but actually the Brazilian cattle sector set another record.

European Union

The EU is a major producer of beef and veal with a total herd of around 78 million cattle. The EU supports its farmers through income support payments. Additionally, the EU uses a number of market measures to stabilise beef and veal markets when necessary.

EU cattle production
EU cattle production

The EU produced a provisional 6.9 million tonnes of bovine meat (beef and veal carcasses) in 2019.  According to forecasts the the number of cattle is projected to reach the number of 28120 (1000 head) in 2021 in the EU. Half of the EU’s beef was produced in three member states: France (20.8%), Germany (17.9%) and Italy (11.7%).  About 70% of the EU’s veal meat was also produced in three Member States: the Netherlands (26.4%), Spain (24.2%) and France (19.9%).

Meat consumption

Meat consumption changes in tandem with two factors: population and overall wealth. Global consumption of animal proteins has been rising for the past six decades.  The world consumed 60.9 million metric tons of beef.

The United States is the largest consumer of beef in the world in 2018 followed by China and Brazil. The United States accounted for roughly 21% of the beef consumed in the world.

The American population also eats a significant proportion of the beef produced by the country. The United States consumes more beef than any other country in the world. Consumption of beef amounted to around 58 pounds per capita on an annual basis. This was projected to increase over the next several years before slowly decreasing around the year 2021.

Global beef exports could rise

Along with anticipated growth in production, the USDA projects that global beef exports could rise by 3%. Improving economic conditions and recovering foodservice markets are expected to drive demand, with most key exporters seeing growth in shipments in 2021. It is expected that Asian demand will support shipments from the US and Brazil during the year. However, lower production in Argentina and Australia (both driven by producers retaining stock to rebuild their herds) is expected to limit exports from these countries.

Brazil was the biggest exporter of beef and veal in the world in 2020. The fastest-growing beef exporters since 2015 were: Argentina (up 259.6%), Canada (up 42.5%), Brazil (up 39.2%) and the United States (up 33.7%). Three countries posted declines in their exported beef sales namely India (down -23.8%), Paraguay (down -8.8%) and Germany (down -8.7%).

The biggest beef exporters
The biggest beef exporters


Global beef imports are expected to grow

Global beef imports are also expected to grow but by a more modest 1%, driven by improving foodservice demand. It is expected that Chinese beef imports will rise by another 4% in 2021, having increased by a forecast of 21% year-on-year in 2020. However, Chinese pork production is expected to rebound in 2021, as producers continue to recover from ASF. This may dampen growth in beef imports somewhat.

Beef forecast
Beef forecast

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