The Chinese Government Is Telling Its Citizens To Eat Less Meat

The global impact of 1.3 billion Chinese people reducing their meat consumption could be enormous.

The Chinese Government Is Telling Its Citizens To Eat Less Meat
Photo: Borna_Mirahmadian via Shutterstock

Notwithstanding our collective cultural obsession with all things bacon, you might be surprised to learn that American and European meat consumption has actually been declining, per capita, over the last decade. That’s a good thing for both our health and the planet’s, but these positive trends are canceled out by Asian and African nations that are adopting more American-style diets. In China, meat consumption has quadrupled since the 1970s.

Flickr user Matt@PEK

So it’s important news that the Chinese government has adopted new dietary guidelines that encourage its 1.3 billion citizens to eat less meat. Citing health concerns, it has suggested a person should eat a daily value of 40 grams of meat and poultry a day, down from 50 grams in its previous guidelines. In total, the government suggests meat, fish, and dairy consumption should be limited to 200 grams daily. If followed, according to Climate Progress, this would decrease global greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5%.

The key phrase is, of course, “if followed.” The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says China’s per capita meat and dairy consumption is currently 300 grams daily, so the new value would require people scale back by 33%. That’s unlikely to happen entirely, but at minimum the guidelines could slow the growth of China’s animal cravings.

Flickr user Charles Haynes

Animal agriculture has a major cost to the planet, responsible for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. A recent Oxford University study suggested that if people ate their recommended doses of fruits and vegetables, by 2050, premature deaths would drop by 6% to 10%, greenhouse gas emissions would slow by anywhere from 30% to 70%, and trillions of dollars would be saved.

Though these are probably pie-in-the-sky numbers, China should be given credit for taking action, which is more than the United States has been able to do. A committee of scientists and health experts recently recommended to the U.S. government that American dietary guidelines should urge reduced red and processed meat consumption. But that suggestion was nixed in the USDA final dietary guideline decision, after a lobbying frenzy by the meat industries. The government can take away America’s hot dogs out of its cold, dead-from-heart-disease hands.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.