While the global meat industry has largely adapted to deal with the knock-on effect of Russia invading Ukraine, the current conflict in the Middle East threatens to add further inflation and disruption to global trade.

In particular, the cost of shipping is a concern, with the cost of a container increasing by 50% from $2,000 per unit to $3,000 over recent days.

COVID-19 also continues to overhang the market in China, the world’s biggest importer of beef, sheep and pigmeat.

African swine fever (ASF) remains a production issue in Asia, though Vietnam is now using a vaccine. From a European perspective, there isn’t a significant impact on production impact, but it does have trade implications, as several countries ban imports from countries with ASF.

Inflation and costs

Rupert Claxton also identified continued food inflation as an ongoing drag on consumer meat purchases around the world. Feed prices are steady, but at a higher level compared with prior to Russia invading Ukraine.

Weather was a major problem for Irish farmers in 2023 and Claxton identified the El Nino weather feature in the southern hemisphere as a factor that is likely to have some impact on production.

On supply, for beef there will be a further dip in volumes from the US, but this will be more than offset by increased volumes from Australia in both sheep and lamb.

This is because the herd and flock rebuild are complete and livestock price has fallen substantially in the last year, meaning they are able to undercut US prices and retake markets in Asia as US prices continue close to record highs.

Overall meat production globally is forecast by GIRA to continue on a linear upward trend with the fastest growth in poultry meat.

Labour and meat substitutes

Labour has been a major concern for factories in Ireland in recent years and this has been repeated globally, according to Claxton. However, he foresees this problem easing slightly in the coming year.

He also said that he is now less concerned about the threat from artificial meat products than a few years ago, though they remain a threat in the medium term.

The coming year also brings elections in many countries, with the European Parliament and USA being the highest profile. These are a driver of change.

In the EU, animal welfare regulations and environmental rules are becoming clearer, but will bring further cost to the industry, according to Claxton.

Trade policy is continually evolving and he flagged the UK deals with Australia and New Zealand as being a particular threat to Irish producers and exporters of beef and lamb.