Grocery Shop in Shanghai

China’s New Diet

China wants to go on something of a vegetarian diet. New dietary guidelines from the Chinese Nutrition Society and the Ministry of Health call for a 50% reduction in meat consumption. The primary driver for this advice is the impact of meat production on CO2 emissions and climate change.  Without reducing meat consumption, it may be impossible to hold carbon emissions below the threshold needed to prevent catastrophic climate changes by 2050.

The dramatic growth of meat consumption in China means that the country now consumes twice as much meat as the United States and half of the world’s pork. Even more concerning is the trajectory. Since 1982, the country’s meat consumption has grown 500%, even though the population has only grown 30%. The Chinese government has concluded that this path is unsustainable. So the public information blitz has started.

5 To Do Today Billboard Glitzy billboards with bright young stars of Chinese popular culture are spreading a message of “Less Meat, Less Heat, More Life.” Director James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger are joining in the effort with public service videos. The scale of the effort is quite impressive.

It’s an effort that was out of reach for the U.S. in its 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Though the expert report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee called for less red meat consumption because of its environmental impact, that recommendation was scuttled from the final guidelines. The meat industry prevailed with an argument that environmental considerations are outside the pre-defined scope for dietary guidelines.

Whatever the excuse, saving the planet is not a job we can afford to put off until another day.

Click here for more perspective from Marketplace and here for more perspective from the Washington Post Wonkblog.

Grocery shop in Shanghai, photograph © Matt Paish / flickr

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July 1, 2016