Pork, China’s most popular protein
12 November 2015
In China, pork has long been the most popular meat protein, largely due to its versatility and price advantage. However, its dominance in Chinese diets is being challenged by other proteins as consumers with increasing wealth desire and can afford greater variety from both a taste and nutrition perspective.
- Pork is the most popular form of meat protein consumed in China today. Indeed, in 2015, China has the highest per capita consumption of pork of all countries – at 31.8kg (FAO-OECD). The next highest pork consumers are in the EU-28 at 31kg per capita.
- As a reflection of China’s rapid urbanisation and growing incomes, pork consumption has increased sevenfold since the late 1970s. China now consumes the equivalent of over 500 million pigs a year, around half of the pigs in the world.
- Historically, China has maintained self-sufficiency in pork production – largely due to lower consumption. However, since 2007, China began to import significant quantities of pork to make up for the domestic supply shortage. From 2007 to 2014, China’s pork imports increased substantially, with an annual average growth rate of 150%. China has increased its pork imports during 2015, with volumes up 22% from January to September compared to the year before. Most of China’s pork imports come from the EU, particularly Spain and Germany, followed by the UK. The US also exports pork to China, though comparatively smaller volumes.
- Chinese pork production relies on imported feed, mostly soybeans and corn. Soybean imports used in pork production, mostly from Argentina and Brazil, now account for over 50% of the global soybean market. In order to manage the risk inherent in reliance on imports, Chinese state owned enterprises and companies have been buying land abroad to grow feed or raise pigs for the China market.
- Another issue contributing to China’s growing imports of pork is food safety. Locally-produced pork has been implicated in several food safety events, negatively impacting consumer confidence in local product. China bans imports of pork from hogs that have been fed with the additive ractopamine.
- Pork’s popularity and importance in China is highlighted by the fact that it comprises around 3% of the basket of goods and services used to calculate the country's CPI.
- Average wholesale pork prices in China have risen steadily in 2015 (from 17.02 yuan/kg in March to 24.54 yuan/kg in August) – a major factor behind July’s rise in China's consumer price index to 1.6%. By contrast, poultry and beef prices have been quite steady this year, and the price of mutton has fallen (China Ministry of Agriculture).
- Another indication of both the importance of pork to China, as well as a desire for self-sufficiency, is seen in the Chinese government creation and control of the world’s first and only pork reserve, which is used to help stabilise prices. In addition, the state also heavily subsidises pork production. On 24 September 2015, China’s central government released 102,000 tonnes from the pork reserves into the market at relatively low prices. This release was timed to coincide with major consumption occasions – the Mid-Autumn Festival in September and the October National Day holidays. This action resulted in lower wholesale pork prices.
Pork’s dominance is being challenged by other proteins
- Despite its popularity, pork’s market share is gradually being eroded by other proteins, particularly poultry but also beef, fish and sheepmeat. Pork now accounts for around 60% of total meat consumption compared to over 90% 30 years ago.
- China’s pork production industry is undergoing consolidation and commercialisation, encouraged by government policy and stricter regulations. Indeed, around 80% of China’s pigs are now raised on industrial farms, either owned by the state or multinational companies. This trend is set to continue with the Chinese Communist Party’s recently released 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20), which explicitly includes measures to encourage consolidation of farms to improve efficiency. (for more on this Plan, click here)
- China is not expected to achieve long-term self-sufficiency in pork, due in part to limited land and water resources, as well as China’s dependency on imported grain for feed. Hence, China will continue to be a significant importer of pork.
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