China figures prominently in discussions of nearly all global issues, whether they be trade, industry, sustainability, geopolitics, climate change, or economic development. This is largely because it is home to around one-fifth of humanity and much of the world’s industrial production. It is a place where when things happen, they happen in a big way. This is no different in terms of our global food system; how could an emerging country with almost 20% of the world’s consumers not be of great importance?
Beyond its sheer size, China’s food system deserves attention because the dietary transition there—which has mirrored its dramatic economic transition in recent decades—provides a glimpse into what seems to be in store for much of the developing world; a food landscape increasingly comprised of processed and animal-source foods (meat, eggs, and dairy products). The production and consumption of these foods has lead to a host of negative impacts, especially in terms of sustainability, public health, animal welfare, and the environment.
To provide some much needed insight into the characteristics and impacts of this monumental shift in China’s food system, The Food and Climate Research Network (FCRN) just released a series of nine briefing papers based largely on its 2014 report “Appetite for change: social, economic and environmental transformations in China’s food system.” [full report] The authors touch on many aspects of China’s changing food system—from the environmental to public health, the economy, supply chains, socio-cultural factors, and the composition of the livestock sector. Among other things, they argue that these shifts are being driven primarily by economic growth and urbanization.