The Unanswered Question?

The Unanswered Question?

Su Wei speaking in Durban

At a packed side event on China and low-carbon development featuring one of China’s lead negotiators at the Durban climate talks, Brighter Green got to ask a question: what about the expanding livestock sector in China and rising meat consumption? How will China address this given the climate change and resource implications—and the fact that the industrialized world is, slowly, reconsidering the model of intensive animal agriculture that it created and has exported? Earlier, Su Wei, a senior member of China’s delegation, had said: “We are not part of the cause of climate change, but we should be part of the solution.”

Mr. Su answered the question by stating that the Chinese diet is primarily vegetables and rice (true enough) and Chinese meat consumption is still very low and so there’s room to develop more meat-eating (not exactly true: the Chinese eat about half the amount of meat people in the U.S. do). But he added, China is learning about what nutritional system is better—and suggested that there is some awareness among government officials that the meat-centered American diet may not be right for China (let’s hope that’s what he meant).

Another member of the panel added his view that if China is self-sufficient in food, it’s better for China and for the world, since global trade cannot be relied upon to feed China. “If there’s no food problem in China, the world will be safer.” China’s imports of soy are rising very fast; maize (corn) imports are also a reality, although the volume is not yet on the level of soy.

Soy and maize imports are almost exclusively for China’s pigs and chickens; the fact of them seems to nettle Chinese officials, since it contravenes the narrative of a China that’s self-sufficient in food. Nonetheless, it was good to hear Mr. Su and his colleague talk about meat and food security, if not climate change directly. Interestingly, “su” also means “vegetable” in Chinese. A Brighter Green colleague here handed our policy paper, Skillful Means: the Challenges of China’s Encounter with Factory Farming (PDF) to the head of the Chinese delegation in Durban, Xie Zhenhua. Convergences ahead?

Photo by Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam