China Environmental Law

A discussion of China’s environmental and energy laws, regulations, and policies

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It’s the Meat, Stupid!

June 11th, 2008 · 2 Comments

CowApologies but I am swamped today, so let me provide you links to two recent articles that sound alarms as to the stresses greater meat consumption in China could place on the world environment. The first is an article from The GuardianMore wealth, more meat. How China’s rise spells trouble” that revolves around a migrant to Beijing (Mr. Zhang) and the life he and his family have made for themselves there, including what they eat (bottom line: more meat). Eye-opening fact:

“This is the end of self-sufficiency for China,” says James Rice, chief of China operations for Tyson Foods, the world’s biggest meat producer. “This year will be the last in which China produces enough corn for itself, and the last that it is self-sufficient in protein.”

He predicts China will be importing $4.5bn (£2.27bn) worth of protein by 2010. “Whenever China goes from being a net exporter to a net importer of anything, it has a big impact on global prices. Just look at oil. The $40 per barrel price popped just when China started buying.”

This article includes a video of a shopping trip and meal with the Zhang family.

The second “Carnivores Like Us“ from Seed Magazine takes a more in-depth look at our history of meat consumption, the modern meat industry, its impacts on the environment, and what rising demand from China portends.

Today, in much of the developed world, every phase of the once-decentralized meat business-from calving to feedlots to slaughtering plants-has been integrated into massive and efficient supply chains. In all but the poorest countries, science, technology, and new management systems have allowed us to transcend long-standing limits on meat. Even in traditionally vegetarian societies like India and China, meat intake is increasingly aligned less with culture or philosophy than with how many hours one works each week, or how close one lives to the supermarket. As Yang from the China Nutrition Association puts it, after centuries in which meat consumption was essentially limited by poverty and lack of technology, China’s consumers find themselves in a world “with no limits.”

Of course, our breaching of those limits was largely an illusion. As we’ve mastered the traditional economic and technological constraints on meat production and consumption, we’ve found new costs-from obesity, land scarcity, and declining water tables to soaring energy costs and shifting climate-that, if included in the price of the meat we eat, would completely undermine the idea that meat is cheap. Already more than 8 percent of the world’s entire water supply is devoted to livestock production, and more than one-third of the world’s farmland is devoted to growing animal feed. The livestock sector is the largest source of water pollution-a slurry of animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers, and pesticides; fully half of all nitrogen and phosphorous contamination in the world’s water comes from the animal farm chain. Once a major proponent of a global meat economy, the FAO [United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization] now calls the meat industry “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.”

Yikes! Read this article; you won’t be sorry.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 tom // Nov 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

    we are doing a project on the affects pollution has on livestock in china

  • 2 Greg // Nov 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Effects on animals can much different than humans, to the point where the same pollutant may have almost no effect on one species but not another.

    Animals and plants act as another dosage pathway for humans (dermal, inhalation, oral) and plants and animals can convert pollutants, especially metals, into forms that are more or less toxic (arsenic -> mma, mecury -> methyl mercury).

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