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China: Why is A Meat-Loving Country Turning Vegan?

China is witnessing exponential growth in the demand for plant-based protein. The pandemic has seemingly changed the Asian’s outlook towards meat-based food, but the global outbreak is not the only reason behind this dynamic shift towards non-meaty protein; China has long been planning on this.

But, what is the potential of plant-based protein, is it sustainable? What would be significant changes in the world, with China putting meat off its menu?

Meat Market in China

Today, China is the world’s largest producer as well as consumer of meat. After the fresh vegetable market, the meat market is the second-largest retail food market in the country. Despite the development in new retail outlets; a major percentage of meat is still sold in the traditional wet market usually located in an open area, like streets.

China’s love for meat is young; around the 1960s an average Chinese person consumed not more than 5 kilograms of meat in an entire year. But with the “reforms and openings” by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, the Chinese’s average income surged and so did their meat consumption which reached 20 kg per person, annually. Today China consumes 28% of the global of which half is just pork meat. Production and average consumption, a year-long have increased to 63 kg per capita.

But the vegan revolution in the most populous country is likely to distant its majority population from the wet market; especially after one such market being suspected to be the origin of deadly coronavirus that shook the entire world’s government and health system to its roots.

China: Vegan Revolution

The meat-alternative market in China is experiencing a great surge, people are turning towards plant-based protein for their nutrition needs. Modernization is further enabling societies to switch to healthier lifestyles inclusion healthier eating options.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, China’s gradual switch to plant-based protein was considerably high. The main driver of this switch is believed to be the African Swine Fever (ASF) which peaked in 2018-19 and wiped China’s hog population. This forced people to look out for alternative options and focus more on plant-based meat substitutes.

In 2018 the alternate meats market was $910 million worth, whereas the US’s was $684 million. This is expected to grow further with an annual rate projected to be 20%-25%. Omnipork, a port substitute has grown to be a very famous dish; which is catered in various restaurants across the country today.

The boom in vegan transformation is attracting numerous food production companies to invest in the market; considering the huge population of China. Plant-based meat developing companies like Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Food Inc are viewing a major growth scope in China. Many Chinese companies like Green Monday, a company making an imitation of pork, based in Hong Kong; believe that the pandemic has caused a huge population to divert to their products.

Josh Tetrick, CEO of Just Inc, an egg-imitation company in San Francisco, said in an interview; “Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out to me personally, our executive team, our board, and the team in China, about now wanting to partner.”

Effect of coronavirus on the meat market

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started spreading its roots and pushed countries into partial or full closure; people have been finding a link between COVID19 and a non-vegetarian diet.

Although experts have cleared that eating meat is not the cause of coronavirus. Once the pandemic is over, there would surely be a visible change in the way the world consumes meaty products.

Environmental Impacts

Coronavirus or ASV are not the only reasons behind the vegan revolution amongst the Chinese. The largest impact of this transformation will not be on the economy but the environment. According to analyzed data, China’s carbon emission will peak in 2030 and the country has aimed to get carbon-neutral by 2060.

About 20% to 50% of all the human-made GHGs ( greenhouse gasses) are caused by livestock farming; therefore finding an alternative and more sustainable form of protein is important to meet the global carbon neutrality goal. Though the previous US president Donal Trump believed global warming to be “an expensive hoax”, President Joe Biden understands the severity of the problem. To combat, the climate crisis, the superpowers need to work together hand in hand, and this will ultimately decide the planet’s fate in the coming decades.

Health issues and zoonotic pathogens entering the body is another concerning factor that is diverting Chinese and the rest of the world to plant-based alternatives. Switching to vegan options will moreover help to preserve rainforests from being cut down for the cultivation of animal feed.

The Changing Outlook

Eating meat is no more seen as a personal choice, and it is getting harder to justify that eating animal products is not adversely impacting the environment. Like the entire world, China is also waking up to accept the risk associated with excessive meat consumption. The global outlook towards plant-based meat is changing and China with its huge population holds the power to lead the world to a more sustainable and healthy society.