Meat is animal flesh eaten as food by humans. Meat has been part of the human diet since prehistoric times, and the domestication of animals for milk and meat was a driving factor in the rise of fixed human settlements from approximately 10,000 B.C. onwards. Anthropologists believe that the increased consumption of meat, with its high fat and protein content, contributed to lengthening human life spans and intellectual development in prehistoric eras.
Dozens of animals are eaten as meat in various regions of the world, including horse (France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, among others); dogs (China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Arctic regions); cats (China, Peru); guinea pigs (Andes mountain regions); and whales and dolphins (Japan, Alaska, Siberia, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, and Saint Vincent). However, in the modern era, the vast majority of meat consumed by humans is beef or veal from cows; poultry from chickens, turkeys, ducks, and other fowl; pork from pigs; and mutton and lamb from sheep.
Today, Argentina eats the most beef and veal, about 39.9 kilograms per person every year. The 27 countries of the European Union and China eat the most pork, about 35.5 and 30.4 kilograms per capita, respectively. Israel eats the most poultry, at 64.9 kilograms per capita annually. Kazakhstan eats the most sheep, at 8.5 kilograms per person every year.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), between 1990 and 2009, aggregate global meat consumption increased by almost 60 percent and per capita consumption by almost 25 percent. Meat consumption is expected to continue increasing by 1.7 percent per year through 2022. Increasingly, scientists have raised concern about the environmental impact of meat consumption, since meat production—especially on an industrial scale as is practiced in many countries—contributes to soil erosion through overgrazing, expanding carbon-based fuel consumption, and overuse of water.