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August 22, 2019 - The Vegan Authority

China's 'meatless revolution' has started

China's 'meatless revolution' has started
Chinese Noodle DishFile Photo / © Photabulous!

In Shanghai this past spring a plant-based meat festival sparked a range of commentary, with some claiming the seeds of a 'meatless revolution' was beginning to take place in China.

Over the past few decades, China’s appetite for animal flesh has grown rapidly, concurrent with rising incomes and an expanding middle class, to the point where today, the country is the world’s largest consumer of animal-based meat, double that of the United States. According to the OECD and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), "China consumes 28% of the world’s animal-based meat and over 50% of it is from pigs".

But China's eating habits are changing.

In 2016, the Chinese government released new dietary guidelines recommending citizens reduce their personal meat consumption 50% by 2030. A 2017 survey revealed that 39% of Chinese are, in fact, reducing their meat intake, mostly for pig flesh. On a net basis, 13.8 percent reported are eating less pigs and 6.4 percent were eating less chickens, according to the New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research.

Currently around 3.6 percent of the Chinese population are estimated to be vegetarian, which provides an initial market base of 50 million people. This is a huge market opportunity and companies are already battling for position in China's meatless future.

The Chinese plant-based meat market has grown at an annual rate of 14.3 percent since 2014, twice the national GDP growth rate, according to an industry report by The Good Food Institute, a US non-profit. In 2018, the country’s plant-based meat market was valued at RMB 6.12 billion (US$910 million), 33 percent bigger than the market in the US (US$684 million).

The transition to plant-based eating in China is also expected to yield many other added benefits. Should this 2030 target be met, greenhouse gas emissions would be an estimated 1bn tonnes lower. The government anticipates healthier plant-based eating will lessen the country's problems with obesity and diabetes, more commonly associated with western countries following the SAD or Standard American Diet. And not least, new vegan plant-based 'pork' products, alone, could save millions of lives, given that China keeps almost half of the world's pig population, an estimated 440 million pigs.

China has, without question, a long history of consuming tofu, a central part of its diet, with Chinese companies producing plant-based meats for decades. Even before plant-based meats were commercialized, Chinese Buddhists had devised vegetable-based versions of classic Chinese dishes for centuries.

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