Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yet another Climate change story? Chinese to cut meat consumption by 50%

As an Enterprise Architect for a multinational Agribusiness company, food and the business of food is at the center of many of our discussions. 'Feeding over 7 billion people' in a sustainable way is a perennial topic of discussion in the media. National Geographic dedicated several cover stories on this last year. (link)

Large agri-business firms have also embarked on corporate social initiatives: like the “good growth plan” from Syngenta (my employer), or Monsanto's “growing better together” campaign.
Agribusiness companies are, rightly, focused on trying to address the problems in improving crop yields, farm production, wastage and supply-chains. In a sense, the business world is really focused on meeting consumer demand and has limited influence when it comes to shaping global food consumption and tastes. One aspect of consumer demand directly impacting the global food production is the increase in meat consumption. For example, a recent article in The Guardian states how “Meat has gone from rare treat to a regular staple for many Chinese people. In 1982, the average Chinese person ate just 13kg of meat a year and beef was nicknamed “millionaire’s meat” due to its scarcity.”

This trend is not unique to China and is increasingly common in other developing nations like India and Brazil where meat consumption has gone up too. And why does this matter? An article in AJCN Journal (link) “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment” explains how “producing 1 kg of fresh beef may require about 13 kg of grain and 30 kg of hay. This much forage and grain requires about 100 000 L of water to produce the 100 kg of hay, and 5400 L for the 4 kg of grain.”

Figure below shows the layers of agriculture production before consumers get meat on their table

It is interesting how the Chinese have decided to tackle this problem head on. Recent news headlines proclaim “The Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in a move that climate campaigners hope will provide major heft in the effort to avoid runaway global warming.” (link:

So what will this move by Chinese government do? Consuming more grains and less meat by humans will cut an entire layer from food-production-supply-chain! (figure below)
This is certainly a big deal since “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.”  (link:

For those wondering where the billion-plus Chinese will get their “protein” when they cutback on meat consumption, refer to my recent blog: Musing on Food, Protein and Vegetarianism)
I wonder if governments in western nations where meat is a staple diet, and other developing countries – eg. India with a billion-plus population – where meat consumption is on the rise, have the political and social will to follow suit?!

(repost form LinkedinPulse)