AN often-overlooked aspect to China’s rapid industrial and economic growth in terms of environmental impact is the increase in meat consumption. A couple of years ago, the German publication Meat Atlas predicted that in the following eight years (starting in 2014), China and India together would account for 80 percent of the global growth in meat production. This is the type of news that garners far less attention than the annual Yulin dog meat festival
The problem with more meat
The president of the group that publishes the Meat Atlas, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation, claimed that as Asian nations achieve Western levels of industrialized meat production, there will be an increase in problems like food contamination and the misuse of antibiotics and hormones, as well as “ruinous” economic results and the destruction of family subsistence farms. While these may be considered by many to be necessary consequences of industrialization and economic growth, there are also serious environmental factors like strains on water resources, deforestation and a sharp rise in greenhouse gases, as outlined in another 2014 research paper published by London’s Chatham House.
From the Guardian:
Globally, 14.5% of planet-warming emissions emanate from the keeping and eating of cows, chickens, pigs and other animals – more than the emissions from the entire transport sector. Livestock emit methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, while land clearing and fertilizers release large quantities of carbon.
China takes the bull by the horns
It seems that the leadership of the People’s Republic of China has woken up and recognized that scaling back its meat and dairy industry is an effective measure for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting new dietary guidelines that cut meat consumption in half, the Chinese government hopes to cut global emissions by 1.5 percent — an amount surpassing France and Belgium’s combined total annual ghg output.
The average citizen of the PRC currently eats 63kg or 138lbs of meat per year. By comparison the average US resident eats twice that much. This means that China is urging its citizens to eat just a quarter of the amount of meat as a typical American.
The guidelines come from the PRC’s health ministry with the recommendation of the Communist Party and other official bodies like China’s National Center on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.
Even stricter guidelines are being pushed in a campaign driven by the non-profit Chinese Nutrition Society (CNS), together with environmental groups like WildAid, My Plate My Planet and Climate Nexus, which recommend a reduction to 27kg per year.
International celebrities lend global support to China’s message
While he may not seem the obvious person to team up with China’s Communist Party, actor and former Republican Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is helping to spread the word on cutting meat consumption to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Together with the “Governator” are Avatar director James Cameron, who worked with Schwarzenegger on the first two Terminator films, and Chinese megastar Li Bingbing. Both Cameron and Schwarzenegger are together again for a WildAid PSA video titled Less Meat, Less Heat, which aims to spread the Chinese government’s message of reducing meat and dairy consumption to a global audience.
As much as we in California have been leaders and have inspired China to go in the right direction with environmental issues, they are now inspiring us.
Less Meat, Less Heat will be released this summer.