The Chinese government’s department of health has recently announced a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%. This is the biggest target ever set by a national government, all the more impressive for the size of China’s population and economy, not to mention its newly-found appetite for cheap meat.
Indeed, China’s consumption of meat has been dramatically on the rise in the past few decades. So much so, that the country - which once had citizens that scarcely ate meat, and only on special occasions - is now the biggest producer of pork worldwide, with an astounding 726 million pigs a year. To put this into perspective, that’s more than half the world's pig population, and five times more than the US produces.
What’s more, China does not currently have any animal welfare laws or anti-cruelty laws. With meat consumption going up, and little awareness and concern for animal welfare, we had a recipe for disaster with the doors flung open to factory farming on a massive scale.
I was therefore delighted to see the Chinese health ministry come out with such visionary new dietary guidelines. It is well known that the overconsumption of animal products in the developed world is creating a worldwide obesity crisis. China’s plans to reduce meat consumption will not only act as national solution to this crisis, but could drive transformation in the livestock industry which would greatly reduce China’s carbon footprint.
With food policies like this which encourage eating less meat, there is greater scope for achieving the best animal welfare on a widespread basis. Reducing the demand for meat reduces the demand for intensive farming and the cruel practices it entails, allowing for systems which are kinder to animals and to the environment to develop in their place.
At Compassion in World Farming, we are making meaningful progress for animal welfare within the Chinese food industry through corporate engagement, including our awards programme, bringing higher welfare practices into local pig production.
I wholeheartedly welcome China’s new dietary guidelines and commend them for such bold ambition. It is now time that all governments took this example. After all, if China can do it, why can’t we?