China and the Global Meat Complex
Recently, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy released a set of reports titled Global Meat Complex: The China Series. The series consists of four reports, each describing a sector of China’s meat industry, particular to a specific animal (poultry, dairy, pork, and animal feed). Each report details a different part of the story of how China has become a dominant force on the global economy of meat.
Over the past 40 years, China’s government and economic planners consciously encouraged the increased consumption of meat and built the agricultural infrastructure required to make meat affordable and available in amounts never before experienced in China. Most used to consume meat sparingly and at annual holidays, but now Chinese consumers eat 52kg per person per year. (still relatively low compared to 120kg per person in the United States). This change has
These reports raise many important and provocative questions regarding China’s model for agricultural development. One of the most interesting is the argument that China’s agricultural system is developing transnational economic “complexes” between countries like Brazil and the US. In the early 1990s, Chinese ministers released restrictions on imports of soy in order to feed growing populations of livestock; consequently, China now imports over 52 million tons of soy, almost all of this coming from the US and Brazil. This transnational complex has transformed both China and Brazil’s agricultural economy.
Secondly, the reports raise questions regarding the sustainability of China’s model of agricultural development, derived from the industrial methods of US agribusiness and reinvented in the Chinese and Brazilian contexts. These methods are notoriously damaging to the environment, to farmers, and to the farm land itself. The reports discuss questions about sustainability in the context of agricultural development and the depletion of Amazonian rainforest.
Lastly, these reports question the possibility of social justice for small farmers in a system that preferences vertical integration, horizontal centralization, and massive rural to urban migration. This question is of central importance for us in our work in the US and India, and it should also be central for any government that claims to represent its citizens.
To read the full reports, click here.