Meat consumption declines since fall of communism

Tables laden with steaming Wiener schnitzels, golden and crisp roast chicken, roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut and so on - for decades those were an integral part of Czech family life. But now times seem to be changing.

Diet is one of the things that have changed considerably since the fall of communism, resulting in a significant fall in the consumption of meat. The amount eaten per year by the average Czech has fallen by no less than 16 kilograms - or 35 pounds since 1989. Jan Katina is the executive director of the Czech Union of Meat Processing Plants.

"Over the past 15 years we have experienced a significant decrease in meat consumption in total - we are talking about some 17 percent. In 1990, for instance, the consumption of meat in the Czech Republic was at a level of 96.5 kilograms per capita and now we are facing a total consumption of about 81 kilograms per capita."

Czechs are known to be traditional pork eaters but how about other types of meat?

"Out of the total, pork meat makes up about 42 kg, then there is poultry meat at about 23-24 kg per capita, but nobody knows actually what bird flu is going to do to this trend and how it will influence the consumption of poultry. And then there is beef which was affected in the 1990s by the BSE crisis but now consumers are gaining their confidence back in this type of meat and consumption is increasing. Now it's about 12 kg per capita. The rest: rabbit meat, game meat, veal and mutton meat - there are only a few kilograms in those categories consumed in a year."

Figures speak clearly but we asked a few people in the streets of Prague whether they think they now eat less meat than before 1989.

"Maybe less. The food is now healthier, I think. Fruit and vegetables used to be hard to get - I remember those long queues for Cuban oranges."

"I would say I eat about the same amount of meat as then."

"I eat less meat now on doctor's orders."

"I seldom eat meat now but before 1989, when I was a teenager, my mum kept saying I was a growing boy and needed to eat lots of meat in order to get stronger."

Jan Katina from the Czech Union of Meat Processing Plants says that transition from communism to a democratic society is behind the decline in meat consumption.

"After the Czech Republic became a democratic country, lifestyle changed dramatically. In the communist era, there was a great support of meat consumption and after that, when the Czech Republic became a free, democratic country, there was no support of the state of the consumption of meat and it declined naturally to the levels that are average in Western Europe."

So it looks as though, despite all the changes, most Czechs aren't going to be turning vegetarian just yet.