How China’s Dietary Habits are Changing World Agriculture

Last month Leon Kaye suggested that America might have reached ‘peak-meat consumption.’ Now it appears that China consumes way more meat that the United States ever had. The way meat is produced is going to have a massive impact on agriculture as well as planetary health.

According to the Earth Policy Institute, over the last five decades, China has gone from 8 million tons of meat consumption to the current amount of 71 million tons. This is more than double U.S.consumption.

As opposed to the United States, where beef and chicken are most popular; in China, pork is the most widely consumed meat. This year, pork consumption is projected to reach 52 million tons – the U.S. consumes a mere 8 millions tons in comparison. What has changed with the increase in consumption is how pigs are raised in China.

Traditionally, many Chinese homes had a pig in the backyard who ate kitchen scraps and crop waste. But now, because consumption has dramatically increased, pigs have moved out of backyard and into livestock operations, more closely resembling CAFOs. In these feedlots, pigs are fed grain and soybeans – increasing the demand for these food crops.

Before 1978, poultry production was almost non-existent in China. This has also become more industrialized. Chinese chicken consumption is said to exceed 13 million tons in 2012, which means that China will beat America in terms of consumption.

Beef is the only meat that has more consumption in the U.S. than in China, partly due to the high cost of production. China also leads with farmed fish production with an output of 37 million tons which is over 60 percent of the world’s total. Aquaculture output in the U.S. is less than half a million tons. China also focuses more on species like carp that require herbivorous feed, unlike salmon and tuna.

Although rice is the most commonly consumed grain in China, the country has overtaken the U.S. in its production of soybeans. Corn is also the largest grain crop Рboth of these go towards supporting the livestock and poultry industry. Altogether, China harvested the largest grain crop of any country in history in 2011. A full one third of that harvest goes towards feeding animals to meet the growing demand for meat, milk, eggs, and farmed fish.

Soybean mono culture is also taking over western farming as China imports 60 percent of the world supply, imported from the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. All this comes along with reports that Americans have started to cut back on meat and dairy in their diets.

Chinese diets also place a larger emphasis on ‘tail to snout’ eating – their traditional dishes include items like pig ears, chicken feet, etc. Even entrails, offal and secondary cuts play an important role in traditional Chinese cuisine — this means that more of the animal is consumed in comparison to the United States.

However, in spite of this efficient consumption, the way that China eats will set agricultural trends in the decades to come.

[Image credit: Gary Dee, Wikimedia]

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also