Researchers urge Chinese to eat less meat to stay healthy and cut greenhouse gas emissions

Researchers urge Chinese to eat less meat to stay healthy and cut greenhouse gas emissions

Staff Writer
Staff Writer
Pinduoduo Content Team
May 20, 2021

Chinese consumers may need to eat less meat not only to stay healthy but to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, researchers have found.

The Chinese diet is both unhealthy and unsustainable by the standards of the EAT-Lancet recommendations, due mainly to excessive meat consumption and insufficient intake of whole grains, fruits, nuts and dairy products, according to the 2021 China and Global Food Policy Report jointly published by institutions including the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science and China Agricultural University.  

Statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization show that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from agricultural activities in China increased from 600 million tons in 1990 to 720 million tons in 2017, as increasing food demand added pressure on arable land and water resources. A large part of the rise in GHG emissions was due to consumption of meat, as the share of animal-based food in total food consumption increased from 14% in 1961 to 38% in 2009, according to the report.

In 2019, urban and rural residents consumed 184 grams and 147 grams of meat per day respectively, which is about 4.3 times and 3.4 times the EAT-Lancet recommended amount.  

A reduction in agri-food sector GHG emissions would be crucial for China to fulfill its commitment made in September last year to achieve peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

Related: Transforming the agri-food system can help China achieve its 2060 carbon neutrality goal, researchers say

However, dietary habits and cultural traditions have a strong impact on food choices and are difficult to change. In China, only 15.3% of the respondents in a previous survey indicated that they were willing to reduce their meat intake, the report noted.

Without following the scientific dietary recommendations, socioeconomic development and rising income levels will lead to a further increase in animal-based food consumption. China's meat and dairy consumption will increase 27.3% and 26.4%, respectively, by 2030 from 2020 levels. Agricultural GHG emissions will increase correspondingly by 12% to 85.44 million tons in 2030, the report noted.

To help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, researchers recommended the following policy measures to promote the transformation of the Chinese diet:

  • First, public education should be carried out to popularize the knowledge of a healthy diet. To address obesity, dietary nutrition interventions should be implemented for key regions and populations; subsidies should be provided to help improve the dietary structure of vulnerable groups and improve nutritional health.
  • Second, transform the agri-food system, adjust the food supply structure, and encourage and support the development of healthy and environmentally friendly food chains.
  • Third, environmental sustainability indicators should be incorporated into national programs and guiding documents such as the Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents, the Outline of Food and Nutrition Development in China, the National Nutrition Program, and the Healthy China Initiative, so as to gradually establish a nutritionally healthy and sustainable food security strategy.
  • Fourth, investment in multidisciplinary research on agriculture, nutrition, and the environment should be strengthened.

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