China, the world’s largest consumer of beef, pork and poultry, is seeing a decline in its meat consumption, as reported in a recent PTI news report. According to the report, the trends towards vegetarianism and health consciousness can be attributed at least in part to government dietary guidelines that encourage healthy, environmentally friendly food choices. While beef consumption especially has declined slightly, imports of fruits and vegetables have grown: avocados have seen a 13,000-fold increase from 2010 to 2016. The trend has also been reflected in the rapid growth of vegan restaurants in China’s biggest city, Shanghai, from 49 in 2012 to over 100 in 2017.
Whilst worldwide meat consumption is increasing rapidly together with a growing population, a decline of meat products in the world’s biggest consumer country is encouraging. The popularity of plant-based foods and new vegan restaurants opened suggests an increase in demand by the general public. However, is this a signal of long-term change for China or a temporary statistical trend reflecting of the country’s still fairly recent commitment to reduce the country’s meat consumption by 50%? Can we trust that the country’s consumption of meat will reduce sufficiently through informed choice? Or can governments and civil society do more to accelerate the change such as through the introduction of a tax on meat?