Ma Jun (馬軍), director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs (公眾環境研究中心), a Beijing-based green NGO, said intensive farming was putting pressure on ecologically fragile regions and that China was wrong to try to follow a Western model of excessive meat consumption.
“It can affect the environment and is not beneficial for human health. China should not model itself on Western countries and promote this kind of consumption,” Ma said.
Chinese Academy of Sciences (中國科學院) ecologist Jiang Gaoming (蔣高明) agrees: “Copying the American model blindly will not help China. I have visited many meat production farms in China. Pollution is very serious. They either don’t have sewage facilities at all or do not bother to use them. They also use a lot of water, especially large-scale producers, and will not put the environment before profit. There are many past lessons to be learned.”
However, the IATP report goes onto warn of a new and powerful agribusiness lobby in China, led by companies such as WH Group, blocking any restraints on the livestock sector.
Sharma said there was a “symbiotic relationship” between the meat industry and officials, which was likely to be giving so-called “dragon head enterprises” — powerful organizations at the top of the food production chain — which have been tasked with promoting new forms of intensive agriculture, a strong influence in policymaking.
“The government supports the formation and strengthening of dragon heads and the dragon heads support the policy direction China is heading, which is further consolidation and control of agribusiness over the food system,” she said.
Jeff Zhou (周尊國), the China representative of Compassion in World Farming (世界農場動物福利協會), agreed.
“I think at a governmental level — the think tanks and officials — are aware of the environmental costs, but still the priority is to feed the people. They [agribusinesses] have been leading the development of the industry for many years and are considered as successful models by other followers, as well as the government,” he said.
Tom Levitt is managing editor at Guardian Environment Network partner and Chinese environmental news site, Chinadialogue.