Meat consumption in Asia set for rapid rise

New report predicts meat consumption across the region will have risen 78% by 2050, reports Frances Ball

Asia Research and Engagement’s report, ‘Charting Asia’s Protein Journey’, both predicts the trajectory of meat eating in Asian markets and aims to quantify the impact of such rapid change. If indeed meat is eaten at a 33% higher rate by 2030, and 78% by 2050 as they suggest, the challenge will be in maintaining sustainable food systems.

Diet changes in the growing middle class

The burgeoning wealth of the relatively new middle class, across most of Asia, is driving the unprecedentedly high demand for meat and seafood. Economic growth tends, as outlined by this study from the University of Twente, to be met by changes in diet. In short, the richer the economy, the more meat its population consumes.

In Asian markets, notably in the five countries that were directly modelled for ARE’s report – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea – rising incomes are contributing to the same pattern of dietary change.

Clara Ming Pi FFCSI is based in Hong Kong. Her work is increasingly geared toward raising awareness of the problems with a meat-heavy diet, and pushing for change. Herself a vegan, she has spent many years of an illustrious career demonstrating to sceptical fellow dieticians that plant-based diets are complete.

The findings in the report by ARE came as no surprise to Pi. She agrees with some of the report’s conclusions – “the middle classes,” she says, “want to eat high-resource foods, they want to eat meat. It’s a luxury item, associated with Western lifestyles, and it’s fashionable.”

A move to plants

Pi also lays responsibility at the door of major corporations, like McDonald’s and KFC, who have made low-price meat increasingly available in Asian markets and are propagating the rise of meat-eating regardless of income. Looking ahead, she hopes that those same companies will “turn their investments round into plant-based foods”.

The difficulty in changing dietary approaches to include less meat, she acknowledges, lie in reluctance toward change. “It’s a new concept, and it’s different to everything we’d been taught as dieticians,” she points out. “No one really put the connections together – but now, more studies have proven that too much meat in a diet leads to serious illness, like type two diabetes.

The environmental impact of huge meat industry is also vast, and more and more is being uncovered about it. Pi points out that the resources used to feed one meat eater could feed twenty vegetarians, and ARE’s report highlights similarly drastic differences between production of meats and plants. In 2017, for example, Asia used 577 billion m3 of water in meat industry: a measure that ARE predicts will have risen by 83% come 2050.

Leading by example

The expected trajectory is a projection of a general trend across the region, but there are pockets of the area that tell a different story. Pi points out that Taiwan is doing well – that they are, in her words, “way ahead of other countries, partly because the government believes in the benefits of a plant-based diet and the problems in the meat industry”. 20% of the Taiwanese population is vegetarian. India leans culturally toward plant-based diets, and Pi draws attention too toward the rise of young people in China turning to vegetarianism – and the increase of restaurants to cater for them.

Foodservice industries are more and more aware that the environmental impact of large-scale meat production is a concern for some consumers. Sustainable produce is a vital step for business, as it is for the environment: it’s worth paying attention to how Asian markets develop with the surge in meat eating. Alternative diets may be the next trend.

Change might come in the form of government-level initiative, or it might be that the shift toward veganism and wellness in the West begins to creep into Asian markets. However it may come, Pi will be pushing for change in how we eat. Her plans? “Just keep going.”

Frances Ball

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