New York-based policy action tank Brighter Green’s new report, Skillful Means: The Challenges of China’s Encounter with Factory Farming (PDF) explores the emerging superpower’s “livestock revolution,” which is having serious impacts on public health, food security, and equity in China—and the world. The Beijing Summer Olympics are showcasing a resurgent nation, which only two generations after a devastating national famine is eating increasingly high on the food chain. In the past ten years, consumption of China’s most popular meat, pork, has doubled. In 2007, China raised well over half a billion pigs for meat.
Given that every fifth person in the world is Chinese, even small increases in individual meat or dairy consumption will have broad, collective environmental as well as climate impacts. Increasingly, what the Chinese eat, and how China produces its food, affects not only China, but the world, too.
“When I was a child, every person was allotted one pound of pork a month,” says Peter Li, a professor of political science at the University of Houston in Texas who grew up in Jiangxi province in southeast China says in Eating Skillfully. “We could not eat more than that. You could not get it. Now, though, more people have access to more meat and want to eat a lot of it.”
In yuan terms, meat is the second largest segment of China’s retail food market. China has also opened its doors to investments by major multinational meat and dairy producers, as well as animal feed corporations, including Tyson Foods, Smithfield, and Novus International. Western-style meat culture has gone mainstream. Fast food is a U.S. $28-billion-a-year business in China. McDonald’s, a major sponsor of the Olympics, had more than 800 restaurants in China, with at least a hundred more set to open by the time the games began. Four McDonald’s are operating in Olympic venues, including the press center and the athletes’ village.
“China is not yet a bone fida “factory farm nation” like the U.S.,” says Mia MacDonald, Brighter Green’s executive director and co-author of Skillful Means. “But the strains of its fast-growing livestock sector are becoming harder to ignore. In the U.S., a re-examination of the multiple human, environmental, economic, and ethical costs of factory farming is taking place. Such a process needs to get underway in China’before it’s too late.”
Although these realities won’t be fully obvious to the millions of people cheering on the Olympic athletes in China and across the globe, they demand attention:
Even though the Chinese government seems set on emulating industrialized nations’ meat and dairy culture, a small but growing number of Chinese non-governmental organizations and individuals are questioning this path. To them food quality, not quantity, is important, along with issues of sustainability and animal welfare.
Eating Skillfully recommends the following actions to both the Chinese government and civil society:
Contact: Mia MacDonald, Brighter Green, New York, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (After August 26: Tel: (1) 917 202 2809).
Peter Li, University of Houston, Texas
Tel: (1) 832-647-6518. E-mail: LiP@uhd.edu