By Jake Liddle
The Chinese government issued new dietary guidelines recommended by the Health Ministry that aim for a 50 percent reduction in the country’s meat consumption by 2030. China consumes about 30 percent of the world’s meat, including half of its pork, even though average per capita meat consumption is half that of the average American or Australian. China’s guidelines recommend eating 40-75 grams of meat per day, similar to recommendations by the UK Department of Health.
Some commentators pointed out that these guidelines could be instrumental in reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, the livestock industry produces 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, totaling more than the global transport sector. If the guidelines are met and China’s meat consumption is reduced by 50 percent, one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be cut. In addition, it would alleviate stress on land and water resources, which would be strained if meat consumption continues to increase at the current rate.
Thirty years ago, the average person in China consumed 13kg of meat a year. This figure has increased to 63kg a year because of increases in disposable income, and is expected to increase by another 30kg by 2030.
While there may be positive effects on the environment, the guidelines’ main aim is to improve public health. Research suggests that reducing meat consumption, in particular red meats such as beef, lamb, and pork, can reduce the risk of bowel cancer and heart diseases. Regardless of the motivations for reducing meat consumption, China is a steadily growing market for meat alternatives. Without stronger regulations, however, the government is unlikely to meet its lofty targets as Chinese consumers have little incentive to dramatically shift their eating habits.
In China, consumption of meat and meat alternatives is affected by cultural and religious factors. The ability to eat meat is associated with wealth and prosperity which makes vegetarianism less popular than in the West. However, Buddhist monks, nuns, and strict followers who are expected to abstain from meat, often use tofu and braised gluten to replicate the texture of meat. Tofu is also popularly consumed in many forms across China.
Several meat alternatives could become more popular as the new guidelines work to reduce meat consumption:
- Mycoprotein based meat alternatives such as Quorn were developed in the 1960s in anticipation of future food shortages. Made up of fungus extracts, mycoprotein is a versatile, easily flavored food.
- Texturized vegetable protein (TVP) is made of dehydrated soy. Once rehydrated, it can be used in a variety of ways, and comes in granule or chunk form. Its versatility makes it easy to recreate a myriad of meat products and dishes.
- Tempeh is made of whole fermented soybeans, and has a more grainy texture than tofu. It can be used to emulate fish or ground meats. It is packed with nutrients and easy to prepare.
- Seitan is made of processed wheat gluten and can easily be flavored, making it a perfect alternative for a variety of meats. It is more dense and chewy, allowing it to be fried, grilled, or braised. It is also a good source of protein.
- Jackfruit is a surprising alternative to meat. In its raw form, it is a healthy and tasty tropical fruit, but after baking it becomes chewy and its texture is similar to chicken or pulled pork. It has a mildly sweet flavor, but can be easily flavored, making it a surprisingly useful alternative to meat.
Opportunities and gaps in the market
Vegetarianism is slowly gaining popularity in China, driven by health, environmental, and animal welfare concerns, but many consumers find it difficult to give up meat’s taste and texture. This provides business opportunities to develop and expand meat alternative products.
Meat alternative products are underdeveloped globally. and the China market is still new. Foreign suppliers will be able to introduce new lines of products where demand is set to increase.
About the Author
This piece originally appeared on Asia Briefing Ltd., a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. Dezan Shira is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. For further information, please email [email protected] or visitwww.dezshira.com.