Americans Are Eating 20% Less Beef than They Were a Decade Ago. Here’s Why.

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Imagine the typical American diet and you may think of lunches filled with beef burgers and regular steak dinners. Perhaps that was the case once upon a time, but there’s been a shift in the American diet.

The change is a gradual one over the course of nearly a decade that has resulted in a decline in beef consumption. According to a new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Americans dropped their beef intake by 19 percent from 2005 to 2014.

The NRDC saw a decline in consumption of other foods like milk, shellfish, and high-fructose corn syrup, but the most noticeable fall was seen in beef. Instead, Americans are eating more lettuce, asparagus, and dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and butter.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The study did not look into the motivations behind the drop in beef, but we have our guesses. According to Sujatha Bergen, a policy specialist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program, health and wellness are likely the driving forces, reports The New York Times. The environmental impact is also notable, says the NRDC — the environmental group estimates the decline in beef consumption to be equivalent to eliminating the emissions of 39 million cars.

Consumer research firm Mintel dove into eating patterns in a recent consumer survey to find that 37 percent of those surveyed cited price to be the primary reason for eating less beef. And 35 percent said they were getting protein from alternate sources, while more than 25 percent attributed the change to concerns about cholesterol and saturated fats.

But if you ask the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the explanation for the drop is lower supply. An increase in exports supposedly resulted in a reduced availability of beef, which manifested in lower consumption.

While a decline in specific types of meats has been observed from 2005 to 2014, the per capita meat consumption in the U.S. has been on a rise since 2012 — the fastest it’s been at in four decades — according to separate data from Rabobank. These numbers tell a slightly different story: Americans went from eating 184 pounds of beef, pork, and/or chicken in 2012 to 193 pounds in 2015, reports Fusion. Should this continue, the Dutch bank forecasts per capita meat intake to reach more than 200 pounds by 2018.

Even with the per capita beef consumption decline observed by the NRDC over nearly a decade, the data shows Americans still eat the most beef in comparison to any other country around the globe.