Western media double standard in accusing China of meat overconsumption: expert
Published: Jan 24, 2021 11:53 PM

Artificial meat hamburgers are displayed for pre-sale Wednesday at the September 12-25 Taobao Maker Festival in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. It is the first time food made from artificial meat has been sold on the Chinese mainland. Photo: IC

Chinese netizens slammed Western media as being hypocritical after an article boasted the popularity of meat substitutes in China while accusing China of overconsumption of meat which harms the environment, which, Chinese readers said not only looks like it is hinting that Chinese people are eating more meat substitutes as they feel guilty for eating too much meat and hurting the environment, but, more importantly, glossed over much higher levels of Western meat consumption. 

The rebuttal came after Time magazine published an article on Friday which claimed that China's heavy meat consumption has exerted a "large impact" on the environment, including carbon emissions, water consumption, climate change and the risk of zoonotic pathogens entering the human population.

The article titled "How China Could Change the World By Taking Meat Off the Menu" talks about the popularity of vegetarian restaurants in China's first-tier cities and the promotion of plant-based meat substitutes by international catering brands in China. 

However, in the last part of the article, it swerved to link Chinese consumption of meat to global environmental problems.

It said China "consumes 28 percent of the world's meat, including half of all pork." The article noted that "halving China's animal-agriculture sector could result in a 1 billion metric-ton reduction of CO2 emissions," as "livestock farming produces 20 to 50 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases."

Also, it cited Australia's professor Nick Bisley as saying: "You can't do anything on climate change unless you bring China with you."

Chinese observers booed the article, saying the biased view was ridiculous and highlighted a double standard. Western media always hype China's annual meat consumption but ignore the large population of China. Moreover, they noted that on a per capita basis, many Western countries are far ahead of China in meat consumption.

According to data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Chinese per capita meat consumption was 44.4 kilograms (kg) in 2020 while the US' was 101.6 kg, Australian was 89.3 kg and Argentina's was 87.5 kg. The meat includes beef and veal, pork meat, poultry and sheep meat.

According to OECD data in 2020, China's per capita beef consumption is only 4.2 kg, lower than the global average, and far below Argentina's 36.9 kg and the US' 26.2 kg. Even in terms of per capita pork consumption, China is only fifth, behind South Korea, Vietnam, Chile and the US.

Historically, the US has been the world's largest emitter with the most greenhouse gas emissions in cumulative terms. In per capita terms, the US has long been among the biggest carbon emitter, registering 14.6 tons of per capita CO2 emissions from fossil fuel in 2017, 3.3 times the global average and more than twice that of China. The US also has the largest cumulative aviation emissions in the world.

On the contrary, China has done a good job on reducing carbon emissions.

According to the Emissions Gap Report 2020 of the United Nations, nine G20 countries and regions, including China and the European Union, are expected to meet their 2030 Intended Nationally Determined Contribution commitments, while five countries, including the US and Canada, are predicted to fail to meet their commitments.

Many Chinese netizens slammed the article as saying that while international corporations in developed countries are emitting pollution in the developing countries, the Western media are disingenuously talking about environmental protection. 

"What hypocrisy to criticize other developing countries for polluting the environment while enjoying the rich life after pollution in their early stage of development," read a typical comment.

Gao Shan, a Chinese environmentalist active on Chinese social media platforms told the Global Times on Sunday that it seems that developed countries have never tried to reduce their own per capita carbon emissions, but have been smearing China over environmental issues.

"Are Chinese people inherently inferior to enjoy the standard of living as those in Western developed countries? Why does every single Chinese have to lower their already-low meat consumption otherwise they would be criticized by those Westerners who eat much more?" questioned Gao.