Brighter Green’s new paper explores the challenges facing China’s environment, public health, and food security due to the rapid increase in consumption of meat and dairy products and the industrialization underway of its animal agriculture sector. The Beijing Summer Olympics are showcasing a resurgent China 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.
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 $28-billion-a-year business in China.
Even though China is not yet a fully fledged “factory farm nation,” the strains from its fast-growing livestock sector, and burgeoning appetite for animal-based protein, are showing—in massive water pollution, soil degradation, rising rates of obesity and chronic disease, risks to food security and food safety, pressure on small farmers, and declining farm animal welfare. While these realities won’t be obvious to the millions of people cheering the Olympic athletes in China and across the globe, they demand attention.
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.