Climate Action

China to reduce its meat consumption by 50%

Chinese government has issued guidelines to help its population adopt a more vegetarian diet

  • 27 June 2016
  • William Brittlebank

The Chinese government wants to reduce its population’s meat consumption by 50 per cent, and has issued guidelines to help them adopt a more vegetarian diet, which it believes would be good for both health and the environment.

China consumes 28 per cent of the world’s meat – including half of its pork – even though the consumption per capita does not exceed those of the US or Australia for example, whose average inhabitant consumes twice as much meat as the Chinese average citizen.

Chinese average consumption of meat per person has been increasing over the last 30 years from 13kg annually to 63kg today, and this number is expected to reach 93kg a year by 2030 if the new government guidelines do not have the effect intended.

Dietary guidelines were released by the Chinese Health Ministry, setting the recommended portion of meat per day at 40g to 75g maximum – similar to the recommended level in the UK, to limit the risk of bowel cancer.

If China succeeds in applying these guidelines, this could be an important factor in cutting emissions of greenhouse gas in the country, as the livestock industry, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse emissions, more than the entire transport sector – would transform, and carbon emissions would be reduced, according to the Director General of China’s National Centre on Climate Change Strategy and International Co-operation, Li Junfeng.

Livestock contributes enormously to greenhouse gas methane emissions, and other associated activities including land clearing, fertilisers and slurry release large quantities of greenhouse gases as well, damaging arable land.

It was calculated that carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for the livestock industry in China could fall by 1bn tonnes by 2030, from a projected 1.8bn tonnes in that year.

According to a study in 2014, the Chinese population has the highest percentage of people with diabetes with almost 12 per cent – almost 114 million people; a problem that could worsen if the consumption of meat is not to fall in the coming years.

The government is facing a major obstacle in the implementation of its new guidelines in the popular belief that meat consumption is a personal matter that should not be addressed by governments, which could be an idea partly induced by vested interest.

China is expected to consume 20 million more tonnes of meat and dairy products annually by 2020 according to a report from Chatham House, the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs.  The report’s authors state that that “dietary change is essential...” to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement last December.