Janet Larsen at the Earth Policy Institute has an extremely informative post on meat consumption in China. Total meat consumption there has risen by a whopping 600% since 1980 and is now double the amount consumed in the US. Yet on a per-capita basis, Chinese people eat slightly less meat than Americans, and only 1/9th as much of the mos resource-intensive meet, beef.
In the US, much of the discussion of environmental issues centers around the idea of limits to growth. Yet realistically, billions of people in the developing world, who have historically consumed far less than their counterparts in the US and Europe, have appetites for food, homes, vehicles, and conveniences that will use up more resources.
The only realistic path forward is not one of restricting the rise of resource consumption. It’s one of innovating to grow the total resource base available.
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.