The Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online publication reveals numbers rose by 23 per cent between 1980 and 2010, from 3.5bn to 4.3bn, at a severe cost to human health and the environment.
Production and consumption of animal products having increased at an astonishing rate in developing countries, as a result of growing wealth and urbanisation.
While developed countries still consume far more animal products, demand has plateaued or is falling as awareness increases of the adverse health effects of eating too much meat.
The report highlights the environmental threat posed by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), increasing numbers of which are being built to cope with demand – 80 per cent of growth in the livestock sector is due to these factory farms, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
As well as the vast amounts of harmful greenhouse gases released by the animals, CAFOs generate rivers of waste pollution and require huge land and water resources to grow feed.
The report also reveals that meat consumption in developed countries tripled between 1980 and 2005, while approximately 75 per cent of new diseases that affected humans between 1999 and 2009 came from animals or animal products.