Cutting Meat Eating In China: Officials Face Uphill Battle In Convincing Citizens To Reduce Meat Consumption By Half

Convincing the Chinese To Cut Meat Consumption By Half May Prove To Be A Challenge For Government Seeking To Improve Health Of Citizenry

Seeking to improve the health of its citizenry, the government of China has announced a new initiative aimed at encouraging people to eat less meat. The government has set a goal of 50 percent reduction in meat consumption in a country that consumes 28 percent of all the world’s meat, including half of the pork.

Although Chinese people eat much less meat than their counterparts in 14 other countries–on average, Americans and Australians eat twice as much–the initiative faces serious obstacles in terms of cultural norms. In a country with a burgeoning, upwardly mobile middle class, meat eating is viewed as a symbol of status and prestige.

The health ministry’s new dietary guidelines suggest people eat between 40g and 75g of meat per day, which is near the recommended level to limit the risk of bowel cancer.

But while the new guidelines are aimed at improving public health, many observers see them as a having the potential added benefit of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Contributing 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions–more than the entire transportation sector–livestock is the great, often overlooked Achilles heel when it comes to climate change. It is so toxic and sensitive a subject that Al Gore chose to leave it out of the conversation entirely when he wrote and later filmed “An Inconvenient Truth.”

If the new guidelines are followed, it could mean a reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry of up to 1 billion tons by 2030, down from a projected 1.8 billion tons for that year.

“Through this kind of lifestyle change, it is expected that the livestock industry will transform and carbon emissions will be reduced,” said Li Junfeng of China’s National Center on Climate Change Strategy.

Indeed, it could make a huge difference in a country where the average person ate about 13 kilograms of meat per year as recently as 30 years ago, which has quadrupled to 63 kilograms today. And that total is projected to rise by yet another 30 kilograms by 2030 if trends continue unabated.

Some observers even think that if meat consumption continues to grow in China, it could even damage the country’s arable land. Almost certainly it would contribute to worsening its problems with obesity and diabetes. A 2014 study showed that almost 114 million Chinese adults had diabetes–nearly 12 percent of the population, and more than any other country.

It remains to be seen whether the government can convince a populace flush with cash and improving prosperity to give up a symbol of that prosperity in exchange for netter health outcomes in the long term.

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