Agriculture

Deforestation, change in crop pattern, direct fallout of China’s pork push

The globe’s largest pork market and industry is changing itself and others in its mission to produce huge amounts of the meat

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Monday 27 August 2018
Pork
A piggery      Credit: Flickr
A piggery Credit: Flickr

China is changing its landscape and that in other countries to produce and consume huge amounts of pork.

The country’s livestock industry is responsible for producing half the world’s pork (along with one-fourth of the world’s poultry and 10 percent of the world’s beef).

According to The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), China consumed 70 million metric tonnes of pork in 2016.

In 2017, about 96 per cent of the pork consumed in China was produced by Chinese pig farmers themselves.

The remaining 4 per cent of pork is imported by China from around the world. In 2017 alone, China imported 1,216,757 tonnes of pork.

The main source of imported pork to China is the European Union, led by Germany and Spain. In total, China brings in about two-thirds of its pork imports from the EU.

According to this source, the breakdown of Chinese pork imports is as follows:

Country

Percentage of import

Germany

0.8 %

Spain

0.64%

Canada      

0.56%

The United States

0.5%

Denmark

0.44%

The Netherlands

0.36%

France

0.2%

Ireland

0.12%

Chile

0.12%

To produce the huge amount of pork (450 million pigs each year), China is changing the landscape in its own countryside as well as in other countries.

According to a report by international news agency, Reuters in February this year, “a record number of large-scale pig farms will be built in China this year as it shifts a big chunk of its pork production from backyard pig pens to automated, intensive hog barns of the kind widely used in the United States”.

According to a recent report in The Smithsonian magazine, putting more pork on tables means more land being given over to growing livestock feed—especially soybean, a crucial ingredient used to fatten up pigs quickly. Agricultural land, however, is in short supply in China. With around 20 per cent of the world’s population, the country has only 7 per cent of the world’s arable land. Moreover, farmland in the country has been shrinking since the 1970s due to urbanisation.

The effect is being felt in other countries too. Spain, which is one of the main exporters of pork products to China, recently reached a milestone when its Ministry of Environment released figures that said the country had slaughtered some 50 million pigs in 2017—3.5 million more than Spain's 46.5 million human population.

As per the Smithsonian report, China now imports more than 100 million tonnes of soybean per year to feed its swine and cattle populations. It is a figure corresponding to more than 60 per cent of the global trade.

“In countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay”, noted the report, “this has led to the clearing away of vast swathes of forests to make way for huge soybean monocultures, further driving up greenhouse gas emissions since forests typically store carbon in living biomasses, soil, dead wood, and litter, while plants sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis”. 

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