WP2.1.1 Beef production: national statistics

European and National overview of Beef production

Thanks to its temperate climate, the heterogeneity of its territories and the agronomic wealth of its soil, the European Union is a diversified area for agricultural production. Animal production represents,
on average, 40% of the final agricultural production. However, the last decade has seen an increasing concentration of livestock production in the most competitive areas and in larger farms (Roguet et al.


5th largest cattle population in the world in 2016, the EU has 89 million head, with 5 countries (France, Germany, the UK, Ireland and Italy) accounting for more than 60%. EU cattle has decreased
by 6% since 2000 due to the decapitalization in the dairy herd. In 2016, the EU had 23.5 million dairy cows and 12.3 million beef cows (Eurostat 2017). 


Figure 2 : Evolution of the European cattle since 2000 (*1000 heads)

The EU dairy cattle is mainly concentrated in 6 countries accounting for 67% of the European dairy cows: Germany, France, Poland, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands, while the 4 main countries with suckler cows (France, Spain, the UK and Ireland) held 71% of EU beef cattle (Figure 2 & 3), mainly valorizing less favored zones such as the Massif central in France, dry mountains in Spain or Scottish Hills in the UK (Lherm et al. 2017).


Figure 2: Repartition of the European dairy cow herd in 2016

Source : Inra, by Eurostat


Figure 4 : Repartition of the European suckling cow herd in 2016

Source : Inra, by Eurostat


In 2016, the EU was the third largest beef production area in the world, behind the USA and Brazil. With 7.8 million CWE (from 26.6 million heads), the EU has produced 11.5% of the global beef production. The EU produced mainly beef from culled cows and young bulls with differences between milk oriented countries and countries with specialized herd for beef production. Cull cows in milk producing herds are the main type of meat from females while males are either fattened as calves (mainly in Spain, France or the Netherlands) and young bull or steers (Ireland, the UK). In specialized herds, the main products are cull cows, young bull and heifers (Figure 4 & 5).


Figure 4 : Evolution of European beef production and type of animal produced


Figure 6 : Repartition of the European beef production in 2016

Source : Inra, by Eurostat


The EU account for only 2% of world beef exports and 3% of world beef import, excluding intra-EU trade (Chatellier 2016). In 2015, the EU has exported 622 700 heads of live cattle (excluding animals for breeding) mainly to Lebanon, Turkey, Libya, the Maghreb and Egypt (Figure 6). Exports have increased by 78% compared to 2014 due to the Turkish market (GEB-Idele 2016a). Trade markets for European live cattle are uncertain mainly for geopolitical issues and market protection rules (Chatellier 2017).EU export of fresh and frozen meat have reached 239 000 T CWE in 2015. Main clients for EU meat are the Balkans, South-East & Central Asia and North Africa. Compared to 2000, they have reduced by half due to the foreclosure of Russia market to European meat (Figure 7). EU have imported 320 000 T CWE of beef in 2015, those imports have dropped by 40% compared to 2007 and are similar to volumes imported in 2000 (Figure 8). This is mainly explained by the decreased of importations from Brazil following the modification of the European health regulations (Chatellier 2017).


Figure 7 : Exports of live cattle from the European Union (number of heads)

Source : Comext / Traitement Inra, SMART-LERECO


Figure 8 : fresh and frozen beef exports from European Union (*1000 T cwe)

Source : Comext / Traitement Inra, SMART-LERECO


Figure 8 : Beef imports of the European Union (*1000 T cwe)

Source : Comext / Traitement Inra, SMART-LERECO

In this folder

France is the first European producer of meat. In 2016, France produced 1.46 millions Tonnes CWE with 4.7 million slaughtered animals, from a total herd of 19 million heads. Although the cattle production has declined by 20.5% since 1980, and by 4.5% since 2007 (figure 46), France still ranks first in terms of beef production in Europe. The herd is composed of 3.63 million dairy cows and 4.22 million suckler cows, respectively 15.4% and 34.2% of the European Union livestock. In 2016, France slaughters stand for 18.7% of the EU total, mainly from cows (44%), young bulls (26%) and calves (15%) (figure 47). Culled cows come from the dairy and suckler herds in equal shares. Young bulls and heifers slaughtered mainly originate from suckler farms. These animals are raised up to 18 to 24 months old. Calves intended for slaughter are mostly from dairy cattle, to produce veal. However, the suckler herd contributes two thirds of the beef tonnage produced in France, and to the export of many animals.

Modification date : 23 May 2023 | Publication date : 16 September 2021 | Redactor : cm