A Chinese person today eats 15 times as much meat as 50 years ago. In the same time period, meat consumption per person has doubled worldwide.


Worldwide, meat consumption per person has doubled over the past 50 years. Much of that change is due to China, where people eat 15 times as much meat a year as they did in 1961. The world’s favorite meat is pork, and the Chinese eat more of it than every other country put together.

A quarter of the dry land on Earth is occupied by livestock, but the animals aren’t always where they need to be. China still needs to import 10 percent of its pork to cope with demand, and in the first half of 2011, pork prices rose by over a third in China’s major cities, forcing the government to deploy its 200,000-tonne strategic pork reserve to bring prices down again. Other measures include flying British breeds of pig – which grow faster than Chinese varieties – to China on jumbo jets to start breeding herds.

As a follow up, British farmers periodically send bottles of boar sperm. China could always follow the example of the usa, where major government subsidies on corn feed allow the mass production of cheap meat. In the USA, a McDonald’s double hamburger costs US$1 – less than a head of broccoli.

Raw deals: Pricing a pound of flesh

29 camel-china-002Chicken

In the early 1990s, chicken legs sent as food aid by the USA under President George Bush flooded post-Soviet Russia. Russia remained the largest importer of American chickens until 2010, when Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin imposed an import ban on “Bush legs.”

29 camel-china-003Beef

In 2012, India will supersede the US to become the world’s third-largest beef exporter. Cows are sacred in Hinduism, and slaughtering them is restricted in many states, pushing the trade underground: some 1.5 million live cows are illegally smuggled out of India every year.

29 camel-china-004Pork

The McRib is a reconstituted-pork sandwich invented in 1981 for US customers by McDonald’s restaurants. Created to ease demand for Chicken McNuggets, which was outstripping the supply of chicken, the seasonal emergence of the sandwich coincides with October’s annual dip in pig prices.

29 camel-china-005Sheep

Muslims are required to sacrifice a sheep for Eid al-Adha, celebrated each year between October and November. In Mali, sheep prices soar in the run up to the festival: a high-quality ram can sell for up to US$900, more than most Malians earn in a year.


From the pages of COLORS #85 - Going to Market.