Food security is the “access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. The issue of food insecurity, thus a lack of safe, nutritious food and hence an inability to maintain a healthy and active life, has recently been worsened by a growing population and climate change. Climate change has added to the food insecurity experienced globally as it increases temperatures, rainfall and extreme weather events which then damages crops and reduces the amounts of food we are able to grow and eat as a growing population.
China’s Food Insecurity
China holds 19.3% of the world’s total population but only 9% of the world’s arable land (land used to grow crops on), which isn’t enough land for it to be self-sufficient. Urbanisation and over-farming of land in China, leaving it with no nutrients in to help crops grow and animals graze, have added to this issue. As a result, the food security of China has always been a concern.
An increasing number of Chinese people are also including more meat and dairy in their diets (an increase of 164% since 1990 which is expected to increase by a further 50% in the next 12 years) due to more people becoming middle class, as well as an increasing need for more protein in their diets. Increased meat consumption in China also has a vast environmental impact on the planet, with the production of protein rich meat creating almost 20% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock also takes up ¼ of the world’s arable land (having destroyed 91% of the Amazon rainforest to rear this livestock and grow its feed), as well as consuming vast amounts of water and energy. This land could be used much more efficiently, with less water consumption, energy needed, and a lower contribution to climate change, if it were used to grow plants and grains instead.
Something must be done
The environmental issues relating to meat production, China’s lack of arable land, growing population and increasing love of meat means that something has to be done if they are to be a food secure country. Pioneering solutions, and new resources of food must therefore be created.
Scientists are developing new vegan substitutes to meat which have the same taste, texture and appearance as the real thing in order to provide the pleasure which meat gives, without the environmental consequences mentioned earlier. An example of this meat mimicry is the Impossible Burger which uses 95% less land and 2/3 less water and 1/8 of the greenhouse gases than a regular beef burger.
The burger is able to provide a protein alternative to the increasing levels of meat which China is consuming. The meaty flavour and red colour is derived from a substance called heme, found in both meat and plants, with coconut oil mimicking the natural fats found in beef burgers. Other ingredients found in the Impossible Burger, such as wheat and potato protein, are shown in this photo.
The aim of Impossible Foods is to create a meatless burger which meat lovers also prefer to the real deal which was also the aim of the British-produced B12 burger. I have tried the B12 burger myself and can confirm it is almost exactly the same as eating a beef burger! Encouraging meat-lovers to eat meat alternatives would free up land to grow an increasing amount of plants from, which can go into making foods like these burgers, and thus feed a greater proportion of the population in China.
Source – Authors Own. B12 burger from Make No Bones in Sheffield.
However, these burgers still only take up a tiny part of the market in comparison to the meat industry and thus would not yet be able to fully replace China’s love for meat and therefore currently can’t solve its food insecurity concerns due to its current relatively small-scale production. In spite of this, with large brands such as Pinnacle Foods and Kellog’s showing interest in the meatless meat industry, it appears that it is an expanding business which is becoming increasingly commercialised and therefore it is not unreasonable to believe that it could feed China’s growing demand for meat, without the environmental consequences attached.
Secondly, the cultural significance of meat will be a tricky barrier to overcome, with meat being seen to be a large part of a wealthy person’s diet and therefore this replacement meat may be hard to wean into the increasingly middle-class Chinese diet.
Another alternative in the meat industry which also is much better for the environment is that of in-vitro meat in which real meat is produced from animal cells which are collected and growing them in a lab to create lumps of muscle without actually killing the animal. Due to the minuscule amounts of land needed to grow this meat it is a much more sustainable option to feed a growing country of meat lovers.
The lesser environmental impacts which lab-grown meats have in comparison to other meats are shown in this diagram.
In spite of the $325,000 price tag attached to the first burger grown through this technique, the creator believes that in 5 years this cultured meat will be found in supermarkets in areas like Dubai and Silicon Valley, where it is hoped to cost around $30-$45 per pound. However, this is still around 10 times the cost of beef per pound. To contrast, it may be more accepted within the Chinese culture than the Impossible burgers due to it actually being meat.
If we are to meet China’s increasing demand for food, in order to reduce their food insecurity, and at the same time ensure the environment is damaged as little as possible, we must ensure they are more open to alternative sources of food. Encouraging more people to eat meat alternatives such as those mentioned in this blog will reduce the link between China, food insecurity and climate change due to more plant-based food being produced and consumed in China, which has a lesser effect on the environment than meat production and consumption.