Biggest Exporter of Beef, A Comprehensive Guide

Biggest Exporter of Beef, A Comprehensive Guide

How Brazil Became the World’s Biggest Exporter of Beef: A Comprehensive Guide

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, with a market share of about 20% in 2021. The country has a long history of cattle production and a competitive advantage in terms of land, climate and feed resources. In this article, we will explore how Brazil achieved this position and what are the main challenges and opportunities for its beef industry.

Brazil’s cattle industry dates back to the 16th century, when Portuguese colonizers brought the first cattle to the country. The industry expanded over the centuries, especially in the central and southern regions, where natural pastures were abundant. In the 1970s, Brazil adopted a policy of promoting agricultural exports, which led to a rapid growth of the beef sector. The government provided incentives such as credit, subsidies, tax exemptions and infrastructure investments to support the expansion of cattle ranching.

The Brazilian beef industry is characterized by a low-cost production system based on extensive grazing. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazil had about 215 million head of cattle in 2020, of which 80% were raised on pastures. The average herd size was 76 head per farm, and the average slaughter weight was 260 kg per animal. The main breeds used for beef production are Nelore, Angus, Hereford and Brahman.

Brazil exports mainly frozen beef, which accounts for about 85% of its total beef exports. The main destinations for Brazilian beef are China, Hong Kong, Egypt, Chile and Saudi Arabia. In 2020, Brazil exported 2.02 million tons of beef, worth 8.4 billion U.S. dollars, according to the Brazilian Association of Meat Exporters (ABIEC). Brazil also imports some beef, mainly from Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, to supply its domestic market.


The Brazilian beef industry faces several challenges, such as environmental issues, animal health and welfare standards, trade barriers and competition from other exporters. Brazil has been criticized for its role in deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions caused by cattle ranching. The country has also faced outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which have affected its export markets. Brazil has been working to improve its sanitary status and comply with international regulations and consumer demands.


The Brazilian beef industry also has many opportunities, such as increasing domestic consumption, diversifying its export markets and products, improving productivity and quality, and adopting more sustainable practices. Brazil has a large and growing population of about 212 million people, with a per capita beef consumption of 38 kg per year. The country also has potential to increase its exports to regions such as Asia, Europe and North America, where demand for high-value beef products is rising. Brazil can also improve its competitiveness by investing in technology, innovation and education to enhance its production efficiency and quality standards.

In conclusion, Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of beef due to its favorable natural conditions and historical development. The country has a strong position in the global beef market, but also faces some challenges that require attention and action. Brazil can leverage its strengths and opportunities to maintain its leadership and increase its profitability in the beef sector.

Biggest Exporter of Beef: Trends and Implications

In this blog post, we will explore the global beef market and the role of the biggest exporter of beef, Brazil. We will also look at how the demand for beef is changing across different regions and what are the environmental and social impacts of beef production.

Brazil: The Leader in Beef Exports

According to Statista, Brazil is forecast to be the biggest exporter of beef and veal in the world in 2021, with an export value of 8.8 billion U.S. dollars. This is an increase of 12.8% from 2020, when Brazil exported 7.8 billion U.S. dollars worth of beef. Brazil has also been one of the countries growing its exports the strongest, together with Argentina and Canada.

Brazil’s main markets for beef exports are China and Hong Kong, which accounted for 43% of the total volume in 2020. Other important destinations are Egypt, Chile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Brazil has a competitive advantage in the global beef market due to its abundant natural resources, low production costs, favorable climate and large cattle herd.

The following table shows the top ten exporters of beef worldwide in 2021, based on Statista’s data:

RankCountryExport value (billion U.S. dollars)
3United States6.7
7New Zealand2.5

Global Demand for Beef: Rising or Falling?

The global demand for beef is influenced by various factors, such as income levels, population growth, urbanization, dietary preferences, health concerns, cultural norms and trade policies. According to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029, the global consumption of beef is expected to grow by 0.5% per year on average between 2020 and 2029. This is lower than the projected growth rates for poultry (1.6%), pork (0.8%) and sheep meat (0.7%).

The demand for beef is expected to increase in developing regions, especially in Asia and Africa, where income growth and population expansion will drive consumption. China, in particular, is projected to account for almost half of the global increase in beef demand by 2029. On the other hand, the demand for beef is expected to decline or stagnate in developed regions, such as Europe and North America, where consumers are shifting to alternative protein sources or reducing their meat intake for health or environmental reasons.

Environmental and Social Impacts of Beef Production

Beef production has significant environmental and social impacts, both at the local and global levels. Some of the main challenges include:

  • Deforestation: Beef production is one of the main drivers of deforestation in tropical regions, especially in Brazil, where millions of hectares of rainforest have been cleared to make room for cattle grazing and soy cultivation (a crop used for animal feed). Deforestation contributes to biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and water pollution.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: Beef production is responsible for about 6% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from enteric fermentation (methane emissions from cattle digestion), manure management and land-use change. Beef has a higher carbon footprint than other animal products, such as poultry, pork or eggs.
  • Water use: Beef production requires large amounts of water, both for irrigation of feed crops and for drinking water for cattle. It is estimated that producing one kilogram of beef requires about 15,400 liters of water on average, compared to about 4,300 liters for chicken and 5,900 liters for pork.
  • Animal welfare: Beef production involves various practices that may compromise the welfare of cattle, such as castration, dehorning, branding, tail docking, transport and slaughter. Animal welfare is influenced by the quality of housing, feeding, health care and human-animal interactions.
  • Human health: Beef consumption has both positive and negative effects on human health. On the one hand, beef is a rich source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which are essential for human nutrition. On the other hand, excessive or unbalanced consumption of beef may increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, due to its high content of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Beef is a major commodity in the global food system, with Brazil being the biggest exporter of beef in the world. The demand for beef is expected to grow in developing regions, while declining or stagnating in developed regions. Beef production has significant environmental and social impacts, which pose challenges for sustainability and ethics. Therefore, it is important to promote more efficient, responsible and humane practices in the beef sector, as well as to encourage more balanced and diversified diets among consumers.


OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029
Beef production linked to deforestation
Greenhouse gas emissions from beef production
Health effects of beef consumption

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