WASHINGTON. – In 2011, global meat production increased to 297 million tons, up 0.8 percent versus 2010 levels. It is now projected to reach 302 million tons by the end of this year, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project for the Institute's Vital Signs Online service.

However, meat production in 2010 increased 2.6 percent in 2010 and since 2001 has ascended 20 percent. Contributing to 2011 and 2012's lower rise in production are record drought in the US Midwest, animal disease outbreaks and rising prices of livestock feed, wrote Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds, authors of the report.

Ending a decades-long trend, meat consumption decreased slightly worldwide in 2011, from 42.5 kg (93 lbs. 11 oz.) per person in 2010 to 42.3 kg (94 lbs. 4 oz.).

Per capita meat consumption still has increased 15 percent overall since 1995. It increased 25 percent in developing countries during this time, but in industrialized countries it increased just 2 percent. Even though the disparity between meat consumption in developing and industrialized countries is shrinking, it still remains high. The average person in developing countries ate 32.3 kg (71 lbs., 3 oz.) of meat in 2011; in industrialized countries, people consumed 78.9 kg (173 lbs., 15 oz.) on average.

In 2011, pork was the most popular meat. This accounted for 37 percent of both meat production and consumption, at 109 million tons. Poultry meat was close behind at 101 million tons produced. However, pork production slipped 0.8 percent from 2010, but poultry meat production increased 3 percent. This trend makes it likely poultry will become the most-produced meat in the next few years.

A breakdown of meat production by geographic region over the last decade reveals a dramatic shift in centers of production from industrialized to developing countries. In 2000, North America led the world in beef production, at 13 million tons, South America produced 12 million tons and Asia, 10 million tons. By 2011, North America had lowered its beef output by 200,000 tons and was overtaken by both South America and Asia, which produced 15 million and 17 million tons, respectively.

Contributing to lower meat production and higher prices in 2010 and 2011 were widespread and intense drought in China, Russia, the US and the Horn of Africa. The combination of high prices for meat products and outbreaks of new and recurring zoonotic diseases in 2011 held back global meat consumption.

Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans. Last year, foot-and-mouth disease was detected in Paraguay, African swine fever in Russia, classical swine fever in Mexico and avian influenza (H5N1) throughout Asia. 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, according to a 2012 study by the International Livestock Research Institute.

Many zoonotic disease outbreaks can be traced to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production and 55 percent of pork production worldwide. However, approximately 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day depend to some extent on livestock, and many of them are raising animals the same way their ancestors did.

Other highlights from the report include:

• Beef and sheep meat production stagnated between 2010 and 2011, at 67 million and 13 million tons, respectively.

• Meat production increased nearly 26 percent in Asia, 28 percent in Africa, and 32 percent in South America over the last decade.

• Drought and corn crop failures are continuing throughout the US this year. As a result, the US Department of Agriculture estimates by 2013, beef will cost 4-5 percent more than in 2010, pork 2.5-3.5 percent more and poultry 3-4 percent more, the authors wrote.