Spotlight on economics: China’s growing demand for meat
China’s rapid economic growth and changing population demographics have affected the world’s most populous country. Driven by income growth, urbanization and a transition to a market economy, the Chinese diet has shifted from staples to meat. Since the 1980s, Chinese grain consumption has decreased by 50 percent while meat consumption has increased by nearly 75 percent in urban areas and by more than 130 percent in rural areas.
This increased meat demand has resulted in significant increases in meat production in China. China continues to lead the world in pork production but also has increased the production of other meats and aquatic products. Much of this increased production has been based upon increased production of soybeans and corn but also on imported soybeans and other feedstuffs.
The demand for meat varies considerably by age, with seniors demanding much less meat than younger populations. China’s one-child policy has skewed its population demographics such that it has a rapidly aging population. As the middle-aged population moves closer to retirement, the younger population will shrink, resulting in relatively more seniors in the future.
Chinese seniors tend to eat a more healthful diet which includes more vegetables and less meat. In addition, because many parents and grandparents live with their children, they tend to influence the family’s eating habits, resulting in less meat consumed at home. Thus, the aging population may have a significant effect on the demand for meat and, hence, the demand for livestock feed, including grain and soybeans in the future.
Recent studies suggest that total average per capita meat consumption in China could grow from about 60 kilograms in 2010 to nearly 100 kg per person per year by 2030. Accounting for the aging population would reduce the projection by up to 5 percent per year.
How will this dramatic increase in meat consumption be met? Chinese meat production likely will expand to meet this demand but will put increasing pressure on feedstuffs and protein supplies. China’s meat imports, particularly high-quality imports destined for the hotel/restaurant trade will likely increase to meet a growing income driven demand.
However, given China’s limited arable land base and irrigation water supplies, it is likely that unless productivity increases dramatically, imports of soybeans and feedstuffs will increase significantly to feed a growing livestock inventory. While the level of China’s imports is debatable, there is likely an opportunity for increased exports of U.S soybeans and feedstuffs.
North Dakota is well-situated to at least partially meet some of this demand with its expanded corn and soybean production base via northwestern ports. However, shipping congestion may limit opportunities, at least in the short run, making gulf exports more viable.
Nevertheless, China’s growing demand for meat will create opportunities in the world marketplace. However, China’s population demographic changes in the next several decades likely will reduce the overall demand for meat.