It seems from first estimates that 2011 will prove to have been the year when the world’s production of poultry meat exceeded 100 million metric tons for the first time in history. This landmark is certainly possible, according to an early forecast from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. There can be no question from the figures available that the global volume in 2011, as expressed in carcase weight equivalent terms, will prove to have been substantially more than 98 million metric tons.

For egg production, a 2011 total of approximately 64 million metric tons looks likely. So, poultry meat output can claim to have expanded globally by about 43% since 2000, while the production of eggs has grown by more than 25% during the same period.

It is a remarkable achievement in light of recent cost complications caused by the price rise for feed grains. Just as in 2007-2008, a major talking point among poultry producers in 2010-2011 has been the surge in prices of maize (corn) and wheat for use in feeds.

The cause of the return to extreme volatility on the world grain market remains hotly debated, but the activities of commodity speculators apparently added to the pressure from poor harvests due to wildfires, floods and drought. Then there was the continuing impact of grain use for producing biofuel.

Turning point   

In July 2011, the National Chicken Council in the USA noted what it called a turning point in agricultural evolution – predictions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that, for the first time, the year would see more American corn going into ethanol than into feeds for livestock. But the same month brought remarks to an agricultural symposium in Kansas City, Mo., that corn ethanol had probably reached the end of its growth phase for the foreseeable future in the U.S., because its Congress would no longer support the US$6 billion per year subsidising of biofuel or proposals to extend ethanol blending in motor fuels beyond current levels.

On a wider scale, 2011 appears significant for much more than taking world poultry meat production past a landmark tonnage and registering a key moment in the food versus fuel controversy. The latest global estimates also accord it a claim to fame in terms of human demographics – as the year in which we can finally say that more than half of the people in the world now live in towns and cities rather than in rural areas.

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The urbanisation of the population has been an especially Asian phenomenon and is joining with regionally strong income growth to drive extra meat consumption across Asia. For China, the data showed the urban share of the total population rising from 35% in 2000 to a current proportion of 47%. It also indicated that although China’s consumption of broiler meat was on course to reach a record 10 kilograms per person/year in 2011, the amount eaten per person in towns and cities would be almost double the rural rate.

As the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service noted, the strength of demand for meat in China enabled local producers to raise prices and therefore to offset higher feed costs. In fact, the month of June in 2011 brought both the highest-yet price of US$7.99 for maize on the Chicago Board of Trade and a new record in China for broiler prices. On calculations from the Chinese national statistics bureau, the country’s June 2011 poultry meat price was 32% more than in 2010 while egg prices were up by 23%.

Projections for the annual increase in China’s production of broiler meat in 2011 were soon upgraded from 4% to 5% alongside expectations of more exports to other Asian countries. According to analysts with the FAO, more poultry meat generally would flow into the importing countries of Asia to answer their extra consumption because of their improving economic outlook. This would contribute to a 2.4% growth in the world meat trade in 2011.

On analysis by the FAO, a combination of tight pork and beef supplies and increased demand has been driving chicken output in most major producing countries of the world. However, limitations on market growth have remained, in the form of costly feed grains and an uncertainty in the ability of some heavily-indebted, developed-world nations to recover economically as quickly or firmly as had been expected.

One particularly strong growth area is the poultry business in Brazil, where production has expanded due not only to higher export sales, but also to rising personal incomes and reduced competition from expensive beef. As recently as 2006, beef accounted for 47% of the average Brazilian meat intake, with poultry at 39% and pork at 14%. Projections for 2011 by Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento have suggested a big change, making poultry meat now first nationally with 46%, ahead of beef’s 39% and a 15% share for pork .