Global meat production rose to 297 million tons in 2011, an increase of 0.8 percent over 2010 levels, and is projected to reach 302 million tons by the end of 2012, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project for the institute's Vital Signs Online service.

By comparison, meat production rose 2.6 percent in 2010 and has risen 20 percent since 2001. Record drought in the U.S. Midwest, animal disease outbreaks and rising prices of livestock feed all contributed to 2011 and 2012's lower rise in production, according to report authors Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds. Meat consumption also decreased slightly worldwide in 2011, from 42.5 kilograms per person in 2010 to 42.3 kilograms. Since 1995, however, per capita meat consumption has increased 15 percent overall; in developing countries, it increased 25 percent during this time, whereas in industrialized countries it increased just 2 percent.

Although the disparity between meat consumption in developing and industrialized countries is shrinking, it remains high, according to the report: the average person in a developing country ate 32.3 kilograms of meat in 2011, whereas in industrialized countries people ate 78.9 kilograms on average.

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Pork was the most popular meat in 2011, accounting for 37 percent of both meat production and consumption, at 109 million tons. This was followed closely by poultry meat, with 101 million tons produced. Yet pork production decreased 0.8 percent from 2010, whereas poultry meat production rose 3 percent, making it likely that poultry will become the most-produced meat in the next few years, said the report.

Widespread and intense drought in China, Russia, the U.S. and the Horn of Africa contributed to lower meat production — and higher prices — in 2010 and 2011. The combination of high prices for meat products and outbreaks of new and recurring zoonotic diseases in 2011 curtailed global meat consumption. In 2011 alone, foot-and-mouth disease was detected in Paraguay, African swine fever in Russia, classical swine fever in Mexico and avian influenza (H5N1) throughout Asia.

According to a 2012 report by the International Livestock Research Institute, zoonoses cause around 2.7 million human deaths each year, and approximately 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases now originate in animals or animal products. Many zoonotic disease outbreaks can be traced to concentrated animal feeding operations, which now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production and 55 percent of pork production worldwide.