China's 1.3 billion people could eat a lot of meat if they developed an appetite for it—and the way things are going per capita meat consumption in China could increase by as much as 50% by 2030. This would have not only negative health impacts, but detrimental environmental and climate change consequences. Chinese health officials and international environmental groups are trying to dramatically alter this trajectory with a new plan to reduce meat consumption by half.
New dietary guidelines issued by the government in May aim to lower the average amount of meat a Chinese person eats every year from 63 kilograms (138 pounds) to between 14kg (39lbs) and 27kg (60lbs). If no action were taken to reduce consumption, it could actually rise by 30kg (66lbs) per year by 2030. This would approach the average U.S. per capita consumption.
On Monday, the Chinese Nutrition Society’s (CNS) new recommendations, which are updated every 10 years, were highlighted as part of a new WildAid "5 To Do Today" campaign that addresses opportunities for reducing meat consumption and highlights all the associated benefits.
According to the WildAid plan:
Reducing meat consumption can benefit China from a health, resource, climate and geopolitical perspective. Over 50% of the population is suffering from environmental-related illnesses, many of which are made worse by higher meat consumption, such as heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. China has 20% of the global population, but 33% of the world’s diabetics. Child obesity has quadrupled in a single generation. The rising healthcare costs associated with these emerging crises will be significant.
Professor Yang Yuexin, President of CNS, told "5 To Do Today" that Chinese meat consumption is increasing mainly from livestock such as pork and beef.
“Much evidence has shown that long-term overconsumption of meat, especially processed meat, will impose adverse effects on our body, affecting our health in the long run," he said.
On top of any health benefits from the meat cutback, there would be major climate benefits in the form of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. If the new guidelines were followed, the livestock industry could reduce emissions by up to 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by 2030, down from a projected 1.8 billion metric tons that year. This would equal a 1.5% drop in global emissions—more than France and Belgium's entire yearly output combined.
Global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are greater than that of the entire transportation sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships—and compose around 15% of planet's annual emissions, although some estimations place the number much higher, even approaching around 50%. Livestock emit a lot of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, while deforestation for agriculture, fertilizer use, and soil nutrient depletion give rise to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The "5 To Do Today" campaign is hoping to use Chinese and international celebrities like director and activist James Cameron, actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chinese actress and singer Li Bingbing to help get the word out to the public using TV ads, billboards, and social media.
In a statement, Cameron said that "China's move to cut meat consumption in half would not only have a huge impact on public health, it is also a massive leadership step towards drastically reducing carbon emissions and reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement…Reducing demand for animal-based foods is essential if we are to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius as agreed at COP21."
Right now, China consumes about 28% of the world's meat, and Americans consume more than twice as much meat per capita as the average China citizen.
However, if China doesn't curb it's appetite for meat soon it could dwarf the U.S.'s meat consumption total, and actually add the equivalent of U.S. total consumption to global demand between 2010 and 2030. This would require a lot more land, water, energy, and other resources that will tax already overburdened ecosystems.