The world’s largest economy is also the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Meat production contributes to nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but China could slash its own emission output by 6% if the country’s billion-plus citizens radically reduce meat consumption.
This is what a collection of Chinese government and health officials stressed at a press conference in Beijing on 20 June. The announcement followed the publication of revised dietary guidelines for China, which recommended reducing meat consumption by up to 50%.
In celebrities Arnold Schwarzenegger and Titanic director James Cameron, China has found unusual allies to fight meat consumption. Both of them, along with China’s superstar Li Bingbing, will front adverts across Chinese media encouraging consumers to eat less meat to save the planet.
Support for less meat
Recently published dietary guidelines represent a step-change in China’s relationship with meat. The country consumes 50% of the world’s pork and, since 1978, meat consumption has increased sixfold, according to statistics from the Chinese Communist Party. But a shift in direction could improve two growing problems in China: rising emissions and burgeoning obesity.
“Overconsumption of meat... will impose adverse effects on our body, affecting our health in the long run,” said Yuexin Yang, president of the Chinese Nutrition Society.
Li Junfeng, director general of the National Centre on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, called for a “lifestyle change” to help transform the meat industry and reduce carbon emissions.
Government to tackle issue
“Tackling climate change involves scientific judgement, political decisions, entrepreneurial support, but at last, it still relies on involvement of the general public to change the consumption behaviour in China. Every single one of us has to believe in the low-carbon concept and slowly adapt to it.”
Support for reducing meat consumption is building and a poll conducted by this site revealed 70% of users think China should scale back meat-eating. A survey from WorldAid shows four in five people in China would consider eating less meat.
Research from UK think-tank Chatham House in 2015 concluded the current level of meat consumption across the world was not sustainable. The report called for government intervention, claiming citizens would be unable to self-regulate meat consumption if meat producers were not incentivised to lowering supply.
Despite being known for wicked one-liners such as “you hit like a vegetarian”, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an advocate for cutting meat consumption to protect the planet.
“China’s move to cut meat consumption in half would not only have a huge impact on public health, it is a massive leadership step towards drastically reducing carbon emissions and reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement,” said James Cameron. “Animal agriculture emits more than all transportation combined. Reducing demand for animal-based foods is essential if we are to limit global warming to 2°C as agreed at COP21.”