Wen Tiejun, dean of Renmin University agricultural school, says the fact China now consumes twice as much meat as the US – 71 million tonnes a year – is a real cause for concern.
“It is not possible to feed everyone so much meat,” he said. “People must simply eat less.”
The country now consumes a quarter of the world’s meat, although the average Chinese still eats only half the amount of the average American.
But with a population of 1.3 billion, a fifth of the world’s population, China’s farmers are having to import meat and breeding stock to keep up with demand – which could impact severely on its economy in the near future.
“The more you import energy, food and raw materials, the more you have a supply problem like Japan,” said Wen. “Because Japan and South Korea rely so much on imports, they have no control over their economies.”
China’s appetite for meat has rocketed over the past two decade in tandem with increasing prosperity, but has helped trigger a spike in corn and soybean prices, which are used for animal feed.
Proliferating fast-food outlets have also played a part in the country’s move towards meat, however, according to a report produced last year by Kansas State University.
“Increased income levels have led consumers away from a plant-based protein diet toward an animal-based protein diet,” the report’s authors concluded, “[and] Western-style restaurants are becoming more prominent in China. McDonald’s has nearly 1,100 outlets… and plans to boost that number to 2,000 within the next three years.”