Agricultural production - livestock and meat
Data extracted in December 2019.
Planned article update: January 2021.
Livestock population, EU-28, 2010-2018
This article is part of a set that is taken from Eurostat’s publication Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics - 2019 edition. It presents information on livestock and meat production in the European Union (EU).
The livestock population at any given moment describes the production system through the stocks of animals being farmed. The duration of a production cycle indicates how long is needed so that animals are ready to slaughter for meat, whilst others are being reared, or to give birth and in the case of cows, some sheep and goats can be milked.
The typical life-span of each of these groups in the cycle varies. For example, veal calves will typically be slaughtered within eight months, beef cattle within the first two and a half years and dairy cows within five years.
Majority of livestock populations concentrated in just a few countries
The EU has a substantial population of livestock: there were 148 million pigs, 87 million bovine animals and 98 million sheep and goats in 2018. The majority of livestock are kept in just a few Member States (see Figure 1).
Three quarters of the EU’s 2018 bovine population was kept in France (21.2 %), Germany (13.7 %), the United Kingdom (11.0 %), Ireland (7.5 %), Spain (7.4 %), Italy (7.2 %) and Poland (7.1 %). Almost three quarters of the EU’s pigs were found in Spain (20.8 %), Germany (17.8 %), France (9.3 %), Denmark (8.5 %), the Netherlands (8.1 %) and Poland (7.4 %). Two thirds of sheep were in the United Kingdom (26.3 %), Spain (18.5 %), Romania (11.9 %) and Greece (9.9 %). Two thirds of the EU’s goats were found in Greece, Spain and Romania.
Reduced EU livestock populations in 2018
Populations of the four main categories of livestock in the EU were all lower in 2018 than in 2017 (see Figure 2). This reflected various phenomena. In the case of pigs, the decline was from a relative high in 2017, in part explained by the strong rebound in exports of live pigs. In the case of bovine animals, sheep and goats, the declines accelerated after the peaks in 2016 (phasing out of milk quotas in 2015).
Some of these changes have been within an overall downward trend. For example, the population of sheep has been in steep decline since at least the turn of the Millenium, with there being 8.5 million less head in Spain and 5 million less head of sheep in the United Kingdom in 2018 than in 2000. Improvements in production efficiency have also played a part in this trend.
Veal and beef
Beef is the meat from the slaughter of bovine animals of at least one year old. Certain cattle breeds are reared specifically for their beef, although beef can also come from dairy cattle.
In this publication veal is considered as the meat from bovine animals younger than one year (usually male calves and young cattle). Male calves from dairy cows are of no use for producing milk and their growth potential for producing beef meat is not optimal.
Further rise in production of bovine meat in 2018...
The EU produced 7.9 million tonnes of bovine meat (beef and veal) in 2018, a moderate increase (+1.7 %) on the level in 2017. This latest increase should be seen in the context of the end of milk quotas on 31 March 2015, as it has led directly to increased cow slaughter, with some of the smallest farms abandoning dairy production. Before then, there had been a downward trend in bovine meat production through to 2013.
Just under one half of the EU's beef (see Figure 4) was produced in three Member States; these were France (18.3 %), Germany (15.2 %) and the United Kingdom (13.2 %).
Likewise, two thirds of veal meat was produced in three Member States; these were the Netherlands (25.7 %), Spain (24.8 %) and France (18.9 %).
…with moderate decline in real-terms price
For the EU as a whole, the real-terms price for cattle was -1.7 % lower on average in 2018 than in 2017. This continued the decline from the relative highs of 2012 and 2013 (see Figure 5).
Pig meat production in 2018 reached a new relative peak…
The EU produced 23.8 million tonnes of pig meat in 2018, an increase of +2.1 % on the level in 2017. This represented a new relative peak, pushing production 1.5 million tonnes above the level in 2010.
The two main pig meat producing Member States are Germany (5.3 million tonnes in 2018) and Spain (4.5 million tonnes). Whereas production in Germany was lower in 2018 (down -2.1 %), it rose sharply in Spain (+5.4 %). There was also a sharp rise in production in the Netherlands (+5.5 %).
…but the real-terms price of pigs tumbled
The average real-terms price of pigs in the EU tumbled -13.0 % in 2018, back down to levels similar to the previous lows of 2010 and 2015.
Sheep and goat meat
Unchanged sheep and goat meat production…
The EU produced an estimated 0.8 million tonnes of sheep and goat meat in 2018, which was the same level as in 2017. Sheep meat accounted for the vast majority (about 90 %) of the combined total output.
The main sheep meat producing Member States are the United Kingdom (about 40 % of the total) and Spain (about 16 % of the total). The decline in the production of sheep meat in the United Kingdom (-3.6 %) was offset by rising production elsewhere, particularly in Spain (+3.9 %).
The main goat meat producing Member States are Greece and Spain, where production levels in 2018 were unchanged.
…but a moderate rise in real terms price
The average real-terms price for sheep and goats across the EU in 2018 was +2.1% higher than in 2017. This development returned prices to the average recorded for the period between 2010 and 2018.
Poultry production in EU at new high in 2018…
The EU produced an estimated 15.2 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2018, a new high. Against the backdrop of an upward trend, this represented a sharp increase (+4.8 %) in production. It pushed EU-level production 3.2 million tonnes above the level in 2010, a cumulative rise of about 25 %.
The main poultry meat producers in the EU include Poland (2.5 million tonnes), the United Kingdom (2.0 million tonnes), France (1.7 million tonnes), Spain (1.6 million tonnes), Germany (1.6 million tonnes) and Italy (1.3 million tonnes). Production levels in 2018 rose even more sharply than the EU average in all of these key producer Member States, with the exception of Italy (down -3.2 %). It rose particularly sharply in Poland (+8.6 %) and the United Kingdom (+8.1 %).
…but average real-terms price for chickens remained stable
When feed prices were particularly low in the period between 2013 and 2016, and with poultry meat production continuing to expand, the real-terms price for chickens decreased. However, this downward price pressure eased in 2017 and did so again in 2018 (+0.1 % in real terms).
Source data for tables and graphs
Livestock and meat statistics
Livestock and meat statistics are collected by EU Member States under Regulation (EC) No 1165/2008, which covers bovine, pig, sheep and goat livestock; slaughtering statistics on bovine animals, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry; and production forecasts for beef, veal, pig meat, sheep meat and goat meat. Livestock surveys cover sufficient agricultural holdings to account for at least 95 % of the national livestock population, as determined by the last survey on the structure of agricultural holdings.
Bovine and pig livestock statistics are produced twice a year, with reference to a given day in May/June and a given day in November/December. Those EU Member States whose bovine animal populations are below 1.5 million head or whose pig populations are below 3.0 million head may produce these statistics only once a year, with reference to a given day in November/December. The November/December results are available for all EU Member States and are used in this article.
Sheep livestock statistics are only produced once a year, with reference to a given day in November/December, by those EU Member States whose sheep populations are 500 000 head or above; the same criteria and thresholds apply for statistics on goat populations.
Agricultural price statistics
EU agricultural price statistics (APS) are based on voluntary agreements between Eurostat and the Member States.
The National Statistical Institutes or Ministries of Agriculture are responsible for collecting absolute prices and calculating corresponding average prices for their country, as well as for calculating price indices and periodically updating the weights.
Price indices are reported quarterly and annually. Absolute prices are reported annually. The agricultural prices expressed in national currency are converted into EURO by Eurostat using the fixed exchange rates or financial market exchange rates, in order to allow comparisons between the Member States. Eurostat is responsible for calculating indices for the EU.
Statistics on livestock and meat production (based on the slaughter of animals fit for human consumption) give some indication of supply-side developments and adjustments, which are important for monitoring the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
One of the objectives of the first CAP was to secure the availability of food supplies for the people of the then European Economic Community. Today’s CAP has evolved, requiring more agricultural market transparency for all actors and EU citizens. Statistics for livestock and meat, as with other agricultural products, help provide feedback on market signals.
In order to limit uncertainty, EU institutions in charge of market support interpret the market signals using livestock numbers for their forecasts. The number of breeders (for dairy or meat production) as well as animal stocks being grown and fattened, contribute to preparing measures that ensure a more stable — or at least more secure — market, which aims to benefit both EU consumers and farmers.
The European Commission has been active in harmonising animal health measures and systems of disease surveillance, diagnosis and control; it has also developed a legal framework for trade in live animals and animal products. Ensuring the high quality of food is one of the various challenges to be met in order to secure this food supply.
- Agriculture (t_agri), see:
- Agricultural production (t_apro)
- Livestock and meat (t_apro_mt)
- Agricultural prices and price indices (t_apri)
- Producer price indices, animals and animal products (tag00050)
- Agriculture (agri), see:
- Agricultural production (apro)
- Poultry farming (apro_ec)
- Livestock and meat (apro_mt)
- Meat production (apro_mt_p)
- Livestock (apro_mt_ls)
- Structure of rearing (apro_mt_str)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics — 2019 edition (Statistical book)
- Animal production (ESMS metadata file — apro_anip_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 617/2008 of 27 June 2008 laying down detailed rules for implementing Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 as regards marketing standards for eggs for hatching and farmyard poultry chicks
- Regulation (EC) No 1165/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 concerning livestock and meat statistics
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Statistics — livestock and meat under the common agricultural policy