31 – The Meat in our Sandwich

25 June, 2019

We’re told it’s Australian to eat lamb! We’re also told to get some pork on our fork. But then the vegans among us decry any consumption of animals. What’s happening to us as a nation? Is our meat consumption changing? And if so, what are the implications for Australia’s grains industry?

Let’s examine some facts.

Fact 1: On average, Australians continue to be huge meat-eaters.

Figure 1 charts Australia’s per capita consumption of meat. Our consumption of meat varies from 100 to 110 kg per capita. No significant time trend is evident. International comparisons of per capita meat consumption reveal that Australians are in the Tyrannosaurus Rex category.

Figure 1 – Australia’s annual per capita consumption of meat since 1974/5

Fact 2: Over the last 15 years chicken and pork have displaced beef as the most popular meat. Red meats are on a slide.

Figure 2 displays how per capita consumption of different meats in Australia has altered since the mid-1970s. Red meat consumption has trended downwards through time whereas chicken and pork consumption has increased, with chicken meat consumption increasing 5-fold since the early 1970s.

Figure 2 – Australia’s per capita consumption of various meat types since 1974/5

Fact 3: Australia’s meat consumption is increasing.

So far we’ve said that Australia’s per capita consumption of meat is fairly constant (Fig. 1). However, Australia’s population has grown consistently since the early 1970s and this is causing a continuing rise in the country’s meat consumption (Fig. 3).

Figure 3 – Australia’s annual consumption of various meat types since 1974/5

Fact 4: Relative prices are helping drive meat consumption away from lamb and beef.

Lamb was once the cheapest among the main meats consumed in Australia. It is now the most expensive (Fig. 4). Poultry prices have increased the least since the mid-1980s making chicken the most affordable type of meat, followed by pork. The price gap between lamb and beef versus poultry has been widening, encouraging greater consumption of chicken.

Figure 4 – Price indices of Australia’s main meats since 1984/5
(Base year is 1997/98 = 100)

Fact 5: About a third of Australia’s grain production is fed to animals in Australia.

Back in the early 1970s when beef and sheepmeat were the major types of meat consumed by Australians (Fig 1) these meats were mostly produced by grazing animals; not mostly through the grain feeding of these animals. However, since the 1970s, grain production has increased due to higher-yielding crops and more farm area being devoted to cropping. Simultaneously Australia’s population has grown and our pattern of meat consumption has changed such that we now consume meats that depend on the animals being fed grain (e.g. chicken and pork). The result is that now about a third of Australia’s grain production is fed to local animals (cows, steers, chickens and pigs).

Animal production is a main source of grain demand for grain producers in Australia, especially in eastern Australia. In 2017/18, for example, Australia’s winter and summer crop production was 42.1mmt and 13.5mmt of this was estimated to be fed to local animals. That means almost a third of all grain production is used to feed animals in Australia. Beef cattle, chickens and dairy cows are the main users of Australian feed grains (Table 1).

Table 1 – End uses of feed grains in Australia in 2017/18 (mmt)

Key Message: Australians have not altered how much meat they individually eat. But they have greatly changed what meats they eat. The meat now in our sandwich is more likely to be chicken! Australians now eat many meats that depend on grain-feeding. This now requires about a third of Australia’s current grain production to flow to Australia’s domestic feed grain users.

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