Agricultural production - animals

From Statistics Explained

Data from September 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: July 2013.

This article is part of a set of statistical articles based on the Eurostat publication Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics pocketbook. It presents information on livestock and meat production in the European Union (EU).

Figure 1: Livestock numbers, EU-27, 1995–2012
(million head) - Source: Eurostat (apro_mt_lscatl), (apro_mt_lspig), (apro_mt_lssheep) and (apro_mt_lsgoat)
Figure 2: Production of meat, by type of animal, EU-27, 2005–12
(2005=100, based on tonnes of carcass weight) - Source: Eurostat (apro_mt_pann)
Table 1: Production of meat, by type of animal, 2012
(1 000 tonnes of carcass weight) - Source: Eurostat (apro_mt_pann)
Table 2: Production of beef and veal, by type of bovine animal, 2012
(1 000 tonnes of carcass weight) - Source: Eurostat (apro_mt_pann)
Figure 3: Production of meat, 2012
(% share of EU-28 total) - Source: Eurostat (apro_mt_pann)

Main statistical findings

Livestock numbers

Since the early 1980s, there has been a steady downward trend in the number of livestock on agricultural holdings across the EU. Indeed, estimates of pig and sheep populations for the EU-27 in 2012 point to new lows (see Figure 1); there were 15.1 million fewer pigs when compared with 1995 (an overall decline of 9.4 %) and 25.3 million fewer sheep (an overall decline of 22.8 %). There were also an estimated 16.1 million fewer cattle in 2012 than 1995 (although the number of cattle was marginally higher in 2012 than a year earlier) and there were 2.2 million fewer goats.

Meat production

There have been considerable structural changes in EU livestock farming since the 1980s. Smallholders on mixed farms have gradually given way to larger-scale, specialised livestock holdings. Even though the number of livestock animals has been in decline, more efficient farming methods have led to higher meat yields; the average carcass weight of pigs in the EU-15 Member States increased by 5.5 % between 1995 and 2012 to 89.5 kg, while the corresponding change for cattle was an increase of 5.2 % to 291 kg.

Poultry meat aside, production of other meat categories (based on available data for the EU-27 Member States) was lower in 2012 than in 2011 (see Figure 2): pig meat production for the EU-27 declined by 2.1 % to 21.9 million tonnes, although the production of pig meat fluctuated within a relatively narrow range (+/-5 %) during the period 2005–12; beef production (from adult cattle over one-year old) fell relatively sharply (down 4.5 % from 2011–12), confirming the longer-term development of reduced output; veal production (from young cattle under one-year old) declined by 0.9 % from a relative high in 2011, and; the production of sheep meat and goat meat fell by an estimated 3.2 % and 9.9 % respectively between 2011 and 2012, confirming sharp downward trends in the production of both of these types of meat in recent years. By contrast, poultry meat production was 2.3 % higher in 2012 than in 2011, reaching an estimated 12.5 million tonnes in the EU-28 (see Table 1).

Beef is mainly produced from cattle breeds grown specifically for their meat but can also come from dairy cattle. Male calves from dairy cows are of no use for producing milk and most of these are used for veal production. Just less than three quarters of the beef produced in the EU-28 came from either bulls (38.3 %) or cows (35.2 %) in 2012 — see Table 2. In many of the EU Member States this proportion was even higher. However, in Ireland and the United Kingdom, a majority (60.1 % and 66.3 % respectively) of the beef that was produced in 2012 came from either heifers (females over one-year old that did not calve) or bullocks (castrated males over one-year old).

Germany produced about one quarter (24.8 % or 5.5 million tonnes) of the EU-28’s pig meat in 2012, while Spain produced one sixth (15.8 % or 3.5 million tonnes) of the total (see Figure 3). After 11 years of consecutive growth, pig meat production in Germany declined in 2012 (down 2.5 % when compared with 2011). By contrast, pig meat production in Spain was almost unchanged in 2012, and only just below its relative peak of 2008.

France (19.3 %), Germany (16.5 %), the United Kingdom (13.4 %) and Italy (13.1 %) together contributed a little over three fifths (62.3 %) of the EU-28’s beef production in 2012. Beef production in each of these countries was lower in 2012 than a year earlier. The rate of decline in France (-5.5 %) and the United Kingdom (-5.7 %) was larger than the average rate of decline for the EU-28 (-4.6 %).

The United Kingdom (36.2 %) and Spain (17.3 %) contributed a little over one half (53.5 %) of the EU-28’s sheep and goat meat production in 2012. However, production in both of these countries fell in 2012 at a relatively rapid pace (-4.6 % and an estimated -7.1 % respectively).

France, the United Kingdom, Poland, Germany, Spain and Italy each accounted for 10–14 % of the total production of poultry meat in the EU-28 in 2012. The increase in poultry meat production for the EU-28 in 2012 was driven by an expansion in output in Poland (an increase of 11.8 % on the level for 2011) and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom and Italy (both recording increases of 3.2 %). By contrast, there was a slight decline in the production of poultry meat in France (-1.4 %). It is also worth noting that production in Germany increased for a 12th consecutive year, albeit by only 3 000 tonnes (corresponding to a rise of 0.2 %) in 2012.

Data sources and availability

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.

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.

Statistics on the slaughtering of animals in slaughterhouses are produced monthly by each EU Member State, the reference period being the calendar month. Statistics on slaughtering carried out other than in slaughterhouses is produced annually, the reference period being the calendar year.


In recent years, the European Union (EU) 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. In part, this has been in response to consumer concerns regarding public health and food safety aspects of animal health. In this regard, the European Commission established a framework for animal health and welfare measures for the period 2007–13. In addition, the revision of legislation in 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs — known as the hygiene package — was implemented in the enlarged EU, with the aim of ensuring the hygiene of foodstuffs at all stages of the production process through to sale.

The EU’s Common Market Organisations (CMOs) for the meat sector establish common rules and policy instruments for managing relevant markets: to stabilise markets; to restore levels of consumption of animal products, and; to make animal products more competitive on the world market. As such, policies for the meat sector try to address concerns of producers, meat processors and consumers.

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 to monitor the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation


Main tables

Agricultural production (t_apro)
Poultry farming (t_apro_ec)
Livestock and meat (t-apro-mt)


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)

Dedicated sections

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links