British abattoirs are killing more animals for meat every year to supply the overseas market, despite the increasing popularity of plant-based lifestyles in the UK.

Almost 28.8 million farm animals were killed for meat in 2019, marking an increase of 5.4 per cent in two years, Government figures show.

On average, 78,900 cows, sheep and pigs were killed every day in 2019, up from 74,800 a day in 2017, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Meanwhile, this month nearly 400,000 Britons signed up for Veganuary - pledging to eat a plant-based diet for January 2020.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (Aims), a union of 250 small and medium sized abattoirs which deal with around half of the nation's animals, said the increase in slaughtered animals is likely to be the result of greater demand for meat abroad.

A spokesman said: "From an Aims perspective, the increase is due to increased export sales across red meat, and in particular pork.

"Increased tonnage was sent as a result of their outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) which decimated the Chinese pig population during 2019."

After stable growth for two decades, world meat production went into decline when ASF devastated the East Asian pig population, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published last November.

Senior policy adviser from the National Pig Association, Edward Barker, said increasing consumer demand for meat was the reason for the rise.

"Demand drives everything, and is the only real explainer for why we are seeing any increases in slaughtering or consumption," he said.

According to the OECD-FAO outlook report, pig meat consumption in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam is on the rise - whereas in the European Union it is expected to decline.

Meanwhile, one in eight Britons is vegetarian, according to Sainsbury's 2019 analysis of consumer habits - which predicts a quarter will be by 2025.

Veganism has also been growing "exponentially" in this period, and there are now 600,000 vegans in the UK, according to the Vegan Society.

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