China joining the eat less meat circus?

China joining the eat less meat circus?

Chinese crave pork. On average the country eats more pork per capita than Americans. As Mark Lyons, a resident of China and Alltech global vice president, would tell you there is a strong preference for pork deeply rooted in the culture.

Historically, the Chinese only consume meat a couple times a week, however their appetite for meat and poultry has evolved over the years. In 1978, China consumed one-third the meat as the United States, but today the Chinese east twice as much. Presently, Chinese eat 28% of food animals raised globally and 50% of the world’s pork, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

A growing appetite for meat through the years is not a hard fact to digest. As consumers’ income rises, they spend the extra dough on higher quality food items — an economic concept proven over time no matter the geographic location. As more Chinese move into the urban areas and earn more money, they are eating more animal proteins, embedding their taste for meat — especially pork.

So, why would the leading pork producing country in the world recommend its citizens to “eat less meat”? It is simple. China was among the 188 countries that committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at conference in Paris in 2015. Everyone wants to protect natural resources by doing his or her part to reduce the carbon footprint, however agriculture — specifically animal agriculture — has become the main attraction.

Farmers and ranchers understand that the environment needs protecting. As the years passed, their practices have advanced by using technology and science to preserve the world’s natural resources. Nevertheless, each country is at a different level of awareness and adopting certain farming techniques. In the United States, America’s farmers have made great strides in raising safe food in a responsible and sustainable manner. The U.S. hog industry alone has reduced its carbon footprint 35% per pound of carcass weight over the last 50 years.  

For China, steps to protect the environment are needed. Air and water quality is a daily concern, going hand-in-hand with producing safe food. The large reduction in the numbers of pigs in China is a reflection in shift of focus. Eliminating the backyard hog farm not only promotes safe food production but also sustainable farming. The plan is to raise more pork with fewer sows on larger hog farms with more automation similar to the United States. Tougher environment regulation is also on the Chinese government’s agenda.

Now, as members of the agriculture community we know that these numbers are highly debatable. The science (or lack of) behind the data and the identification of GHG emission sources is extremely questionable and definitely up for discussion. We also can easily refute that eating salad is the best thing for the environment.

Despite the actual facts, the large numbers presented at the Paris Conference gained the attention of many countries, allowing special interest groups to add more monkeys to the circus. One by one, countries are announcing dietary guidelines that recommend eating less meet to save the planet. Now China, in its recently released dietary guidelines, is also pitching a “eat less meat” campaign to promote sustainable diets.

Speaking of additional monkeys, Arnold Schwarzenegger just unveiled his partnership with film director James Cameron in campaign for environmental advocacy funded by WildAid. “Less meat, less heat, more life” is the message Schwarzenegger will be touting in the campaign set to air in China.

The growing trend is to cast eating meat as the freak show. However, it is all in the hands of the ring master with the flashiest light show and loudest amplification system no matter the location of the Big Top. Perhaps, it is time to circle the wagons, lower the center pole on the big tent and capture the monkeys.

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