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IPFS News Link • Food

Meat Demand Is Under Threat Like 'Never Before' as Prices Surge

• By Agnieszka de Sousa, Daniela Sirtori-Cortina, an

In the U.S., sales of meat at grocery stores are down by more than 12% from a year ago. In Europe, overall beef demand is predicted to fall 1% this year. And in Argentina, home to one of the world's most carnivorous populations, per-capita beef consumption has dropped almost 4% from 2020.

While some of those numbers might seem small, even a tenuous decline is a rarity in the meat world, which until the pandemic hit last year saw years-long growth in consumption to ever-new record highs. Now demand is waning across the globe in what could signal the start of a new broad shift away from animal protein. 

The biggest demand deterrent has been a relentless climb for prices that started in October, propelled higher by tightness in global supplies of animal feed and supply-chain disruptions. The United Nations' global meat price gauge has risen for eight straight months, the longest streak since 2011, and is near a multi-year high. The price shock comes at a time when consumers are still dealing with Covid's economic fallout, forcing families from Brazil to the Philippines to buy less and swap in other proteins like eggs if they can afford it, or instead just fill their plates with rice or noodles.

For Eudelia Pena, a 48-year-old who lives in New York City with her husband and one of her three children, meat has become a luxury. Retail ground beef prices in the U.S. have surged about 6% since before the pandemic, while whole chickens are up about 9% and pork chops jumped 13% to roughly $3.88 a pound in May, government data show. That's making animal protein almost unaffordable for Pena's family, which is now down to one income after she lost her job at a clothing store.

"With what I spend today, I don't bring back even half of what I used to," she said. "I used to buy two chickens. Now I just buy one and split it in half."