More than a quarter of all the meat produced worldwide is now eaten in China, and the country’s 1.35 billion people are hungry for more. In 1978, China’s meat consumption of 8 million tons was one third the U.S. consumption of 24 million tons. But by 1992, China had overtaken the United States as the world’s leading meat consumer—and it has not looked back since. Now China’s annual meat consumption of 71 million tons is more than double that in the United States. With U.S. meat consumption falling and China’s consumption still rising, the trajectories of these two countries are determining the shape of agriculture around the planet.
Pork is China’s meat of choice, accounting for nearly three fourths of its meat consumption. Half the world’s pigs—some 476 million of them—live in China. This meat is so central to the Chinese diet that in 2007 the government, hoping to cushion against price spikes, created a strategic pork reserve (albeit a relatively small one) to accompany its more typical stockpiles of grain and petroleum. Many a Chinese banquet table is graced with a portion of sticky sweet braised pork belly, touted to be the favorite dish of Chairman Mao. With its pork consumption projected to reach 52 million tons in 2012, China is far ahead of the 8 million tons eaten in the United States, where chicken and beef are more popular. (Download complete data set in excel format)
The knock on effects on water consumption are significant as it takes 100 times more water to produce a kg of animal protein than it does to produce a kg of vegetable protein. China has neither the land or the water for this rapidly changing diet.