China's growing demand for imported grain is expected to strain global food stocks.
According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, Chinese grain imports shot up to 22.8 million tons in 2013, nearly twice what they were the year before and the highest they’ve been in the country’s history. [Earth Institute founder Lester] Brown says the increase is driven by rising demand for meat among China’s increasingly affluent population, and a desire to produce that meat at home.
The country’s industrialisation is reducing the amount of land suitable for growing grain, meaning it is increasingly having to turn to other countries to meet this demand at a time when many world grain producers are already pushing the limits of the land they farm.
As farmers struggle to produce enough, total food prices have doubled and grain prices have more than doubled just in the last 10 years, according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Meat is becoming a larger part of the Chinese diet. Pork has long been the most popular meat in China, accounting for nearly 70 percent of meat consumption in 2013. Globally, the country consumes roughly half the world’s pork and is home to about half the world’s pigs.
Yet, pork is starting to lose its dominance in China. “China is beginning to now more and more diversify its meat consumption,” Brown said. “The Chinese want to live like Americans,” and pork is America’s least favorite meat. Instead, people in the U.S. eat more poultry and a lot more beef, a historically small part of the Chinese diet but one that takes more grain than pork to produce.
This aspiration to be like Americans poses serious problems for grain production. Brown estimates that for the Chinese to eat as much meat per person as Americans would require imports of 240 million tons of grain per year - “a huge amount of grain in global terms,” and more than India produces each year.