Agricultural production - livestock and meat
Data extracted in November 2020.
Planned article update: January 2022.
Livestock population, EU-27, 2010-2019
This article presents information on livestock and meat production in the European Union (EU).
Editorial note: Throughout this article, which deals with time periods when the United Kingdom was a Member State of the European Union, the acronym EU, however, refers to EU-27, the post-Brexit composition of the European Union as of 1 February 2020.
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.
Detailed figures on the age, sex, category and type of animals in production cycles are collected at a regional and national level. This is done through livestock surveys that are either carried out once or twice a year.
In this article, only aggregated data for national livestock herds are analysed. More detailed figures for analysis are available in Eurostat’s free, online database.
Majority of livestock populations concentrated in just a few countries
The EU-27 has a substantial population of livestock: there were 143 million pigs, 77 million bovine animals and 74 million sheep and goats in 2019. The majority of livestock are kept in just a few Member States (see Figure 1).
Almost three quarters of the EU’s 2019 bovine population was kept in France (23.5 %), Germany (15.1 %), Spain (8.6 %), Ireland (8.5 %), Italy (8.3 %) and Poland (8.1 %). Almost three quarters of the EU’s pigs were found in Spain (21.8 %), Germany (18.2 %), France (9.4 %), Denmark (8.9 %), the Netherlands (8.3 %) and Poland (7.8 %). Three quarters of the EU’s sheep were found in Spain (24.8%), Romania (16.6 %), Greece (13.5%), France (11.4 %) and Italy (11.2 %). Two thirds of the EU’s goats were found in Greece, Spain and Romania.
Reduced EU livestock populations in 2019
Populations of the four main categories of livestock in the EU were all lower in 2019 than in 2018 (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, the declines coincided with the 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 millennium, with there being 8.9 million less head in Spain.
Data is collected on the number and weight of carcasses at slaughterhouses, whose meat is deemed fit for human consumption. In this article, ‘meat’ should be understood as the carcass weight from slaughterhouses.
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 article 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.
Dip in production of bovine meat in 2019 …
The EU produced a provisional 6.9 million tonnes of bovine meat (beef and veal carcasses) in 2019, which was slightly less (-1.4 %) than in 2018. This decline should be seen in the context of steady rises that came after 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.
Half of the EU’s beef (see Figure 3) was produced in three Member States: France (20.8 %), Germany (17.9 %) and Italy (11.7 %).
About 70 % of the EU’s veal meat was also produced in three Member States: the Netherlands (26.4 %), Spain (24.2 %) and France (19.9 %).
… and strong decline in real-terms price
For the EU as a whole, the average real-terms (deflated) price for cattle in 2019 was down sharply (a provisional -4.1 %) on the average in 2018. This continued the decline from the relative highs of 2012 and 2013 (see Figure 5).
Pig meat production in 2019 dipped from the peak in 2018 …
The EU produced a provisional 22.8 million tonnes of pig meat in 2019, a slight decline (-0.7 %) from the relative peak level in 2018. To put this in context, production in 2019 remained 1.2 million tonnes higher than in 2010.
The two main pig meat producing Member States are Germany (5.2 million tonnes in 2019) and Spain (4.6 million tonnes). Whereas production in Germany was lower in 2019 (down -2.2 %), which was the third successive annual contraction, it rose once again in Spain (+2.4 %, the sixth successive year of growth). There was also another year of strong growth in the Netherlands (+6.0 %).
… but the real-terms price of pigs jumped
The average real-terms (deflated) price of pigs in the EU jumped (a provisional +15.7 %) in 2019, back up to its level of 2017 (see Figure 5).
Sheep and goat meat
Unchanged sheep and goat meat production…
The EU produced an estimated 0.5 million tonnes of sheep and goat meat in 2019, which was similar to the level in 2018. Sheep meat accounted for the vast majority (about 90 %) of the combined total output.
Three quarters of the EU’s sheep meat was produced in Spain (27.6 % in 2019), France (18.4 %), Ireland (15.0 %) and Greece (11.7 %). The main producers of goat meat among the EU Member States are Greece and Spain.
…but a lower real terms price
The average real-terms (deflated) price for sheep and goats across the EU in 2019 was lower (a provisional -3.0%) than in 2018 and down markedly (-7.5 %) on the average in 2015 (see Figure 5).
Poultry production in EU at high in 2019…
The EU produced an estimated 13.3 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2019, a new high. Against the backdrop of an upward trend, this represented a small increase in production (+0.8 %). It pushed EU production some 2.8 million tonnes above the level recorded in 2010, a cumulative rise of around 27 %.
In 2019, the main poultry meat producers in the EU include Poland (2.6 million tonnes), Spain (1.7 million tonnes), France (1.7 million tonnes), Germany (1.6 million tonnes) and Italy (1.4 million tonnes). Among these key producers, production levels in Italy (+6.3 %), Spain (+4.2 %) and Poland (+1.9 %) rose more sharply than in the EU-27 as a whole and in Germany (both +0.8 %), but declined in France (-2.0 %).
…but average real-terms price for poultry declined
When feed prices were particularly low in the period between 2013 and 2016, and with poultry meat production continuing to expand, the real-terms (deflated) price for poultry decreased. Although this downward pressure eased in 2017 and 2018, there was a further decline in 2019 (a provisional -1.6 % in real terms, see Figure 5).
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 EU Member States.
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 EU 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. The 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 — 2020 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