Appetite for meat in China could lead to much larger imports

According to a recent USDA report, meat consumption in China has increased significantly since the 1970s. It could climb further in the next decade, giving the country one of Asia’s highest per capita consumption rates.

Meat consumption in China has increased significantly since the 1970s and could climb further in the next decade, giving the country one of the highest per capita consumption rates in Asia, said a USDA report: “This trend creates new opportunities for exporters in the United States and other countries but it also poses food security challenges and environmental impacts.”

USDA economists said per capita meat consumption in China, how 53.9 kilograms, similar to Japan but half the U.S. average, could increase 40% by 2031. China is the world’s largest pork producer, second in chicken, and third in beef, said the Economic Research Service report.

“After several decades of rapid growth, China has emerged as a major producer, consumer, and importer of meat,” wrote USDA economists Fred Gale and Fengxia Dong. Meat provides 19% of daily calories, compared to 4% in the 1960s. Pork is the dominant meat, at 40 kilograms per person annually, or nearly three-quarters of consumption.

Meat production dropped a bit in 2019-20 when an epidemic of African swine fever hit China’s hogs, but recovered to a record 89 million tonnes in 2021. The Chinese Agriculture Ministry has projected modest growth for meat production, reaching 93 million tonnes in 2025.

Consumer demand for meat in the near term is clouded by uncertainties. China’s population has fallen slightly — India is now the world’s most populous country by a small margin — and household income is growing at a slower rate.

“While a significant portion of China’s population still has nutritional deficiencies that induced low meat consumption, rising incidences of obesity, heart disease, and other diet-related diseases have prompted Chinese public health officials to recommend that consumers curb meat consumption,” according to the report. “Like other nations, there is concern about the environmental effects of livestock production.”

Still, “consumption is growing despite rising prices and statistical models confirm that consumption is relatively inelastic to price changes,” said the report. “Based on past relationships between meat consumption, income, and prices, per capita meat consumption is projected to rise during 2022–31” by 21-23 kilograms, depending on the method used to estimate the growth. “Pork consumption is projected to grow slower than the consumption of other meats.”

Imports accounted for 9% of the Chinese meat supply in 2021, compared to 1% in 2000. “Meat accounted for a growing share of supply as [domestic] production growth slowed,” said the report.