The Big Rise in Meat Consumption in East Asia and Why it Concerns Everyone

This is a map that scales meat consumption globally. It shows that China consumes 25% of the world's meat while having 20% of the population

Amongst the growing list of environmental concerns, the rise of meat consumption in Asia is one that warrants attention. It is a phenomenon that could be easily explained by saying that as the Asian powers grow economically, so does their middle class, and so does the desire of the middle class to eat more meat. It is the inevitable trend of societies, a tragic but predictable outcome of wealth accumulation: people just want to eat more meat. This explanation is partly true, but partly and more importantly, it is overly simplistic and in being so, it ignores the golden glove of the global market.

Lester Brown, one of the founders of the Worldwatch institute put the complex relationship between growing wealth and growing desires well:

If industrialization is rapid, the loss of cropland quickly overrides the rise in land productivity, leading to a decline in grain production. The same industrialization that shrinks the cropland area also raises income, and with it the consumption of livestock products and the demand for grain. Ironically, the faster the industrialization proceeds, the more rapidly the gap widens between rising demand and falling production.

There is no better example than China to illustrate the reality of Brown’s words. Today China’s arable land is about 7% of its total land, and its population is 1.3 billion. Livestock, back when they still ate their natural diets would have required long stretches of land to feed off of. Since the industrial meat system cuts that part out of the equation and instead subjects animals to cage like spaces and uses grains and others to feed the animals, this is no longer a requirement. However, if China is to feed its growing population of animals, it will need to find this land elsewhere (i.e. look at the post on China’s land grabbing in Africa).

The point I want to stress about this issue is found between the tension of the consumer preference and the producer’s role. It is all too easy to remain oblivious to the role of the mega meat corporations in the global meat market and say that consumers are to blame for all of the market’s surges and plunges. People just want more meat again, is overly simplistic and it ignores the part that giant meat packaging companies have had on consumption. The aggressive tactics that have been utilized to open up Asian markets to American meat imports is appalling, in the past fifteen years, imports of not just meat, but the model for producing meat in the United States have been copious and unabashed.

In following posts, I will like to bring up several key points: the first will be the environmental impact of global meat consumption present and future, second I will trace the history of the big meat packing corporations (Tyson, Cargill, IBP, Smithfield), and third I will speak to the resistance in countries like South Korea against foreign meat imports.

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3 Responses to “The Big Rise in Meat Consumption in East Asia and Why it Concerns Everyone”

  1. While obstacles are slowly created to control the indiscriminate growth of large corporations in some developed countries, others, such as China, have created new niches in many markets with less rules and more opportunities, such as the meat market. It would be very interesting to learn about the dynamics of meat markets. What is the scope? Where grows the meat we eat? It is ridiculous to think that in China you may be eating U.S. beef. How can that meat be fresh, healthy?

    Good job. Keep writing!

  2. I totally agree with your comments, and would add that we should be scared of the cultural destruction that is brought by the fact that these large corporations want all of us to eat the same non-food, dress, the same, hear the same music….not ot mention issues of animal rights in relation with the horrible growing techniques!

  3. alejandracuellar Says:

    The meat is not fresh, but it is frozen! Lots of it comes from the US controlled market which can mean it is grown in a variety of places, Australia, New Zealand, but it is controlled by multinational corporations, the biggest being Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and IBP. A big part of the reason meat began to be sold internationally such as is the case with China was surpluses. When the US had too much meat in its own market, it had to look for new markets aggressively.

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