Global meat production looks set to fall 0.8% to 72m tonnes this year, following five years of continuous growth, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, all sectors are expected to face many more months of uncertainty related to the pandemic, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) which provides an insight and analysis into all the major food groups.

This negative forecast reflects projected declines in beef from six of the world’s leading beef producers, to include the USA, Australia, India, South Africa, the EU and the UK and New Zealand. Increases in production are expected in China and Brazil although they will not be enough to counteract the declines expected.

Most of the countries facing reductions in beef production have suffered market disruptions due to Covid-19 however, there is also reduced availability in Oceania due to herd rebuilding, while in the USA, output is predicted to conclude 2020 with production 5% behind year earlier levels due to labour shortages in the processing sector.

There are also tighter cattle supplies in the EU/UK due to the continued decline in herd numbers.

The loss or reduced demand for beef from the food service market has also had a negative impact on beef prices in many parts of the world which is not incentivising producers to slaughter animals.

By contrast, beef output in China is projected to increase due to a growing domestic cattle herd, particularly on large-scale farms, and firm demand from Chinese consumers for beef due to the decline in pork availability.

In Brazil, growth in beef production is also forecast due to an increase in cattle throughput and increasing carcase weights. Favourable weather and competitive feed costs in the region are expected to contribute to this trend.

Meanwhile, the global production of sheep/goat meat output is forecast to increase by almost 1% to 16m tonnes in 2020 of which most will be concentrated in China with some modest growth also in Africa.

However, production in Oceania, which accounts for 80% of global sheep/goat trade, is forecast to decline. This would be a fifth year of decline since 2013. Issues with drought have reduced flock sizes in previous years although better weather conditions this year have encouraged lamb retention and flock expansion.

Sheep meat production in China is forecast to show a 2.3% increase, stemming from flock growth as a result of higher prices attracting more into the sector in recent years.

Looking closer to home, sheep/goat meat output in the EU and the UK is set to stabilise with limited availability of animals.

For the second year in a row, world pigmeat output is projected to contract, down 8% to 101m tonnes in 2020, mostly as a result of continuing production declines in China following the impact of African Swine Fever which is also now hitting Vietnam and the Philippines. In the USA a negative production forecast is mainly linked to Covid-19 market disruptions.

Meanwhile moderate increases in pork production are expected in the EU and the UK, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Mexico and Canada during 2020.