Does China Hold the Key to the Animals' Future?
Just when animal advocates thought the annual harp seal slaughter in Canada might finally be reaching its long-awaited demise, along comes news this week that China has signed an agreement to buy Canadian seal meat and oil. The move not only provides Canada with an incentive to continue the slaughter, it highlights China's economic ability to make or break the future for seals and many other species of animals in this global economy.
An article summarizing a recent United Nations report about rising food prices notes, "Rising living standards in countries such as China also mean that more people will be eating meat and dairy products that require more grain to produce."
That forecast is nothing new; analysts have acknowledged for years that China's huge population and growing affluence would spike demand for meat and other animal products, adding urgency to the issue of how diet affects the environment and world economy.
Pork is the most popular meat in China, and both meat and dairy consumption have risen sharply overall, even though per-person amounts in China are below their American and European counterparts. This change in the national diet is having adverse health effects already, but that phenomenon seems to have had no effect on national demand, even as prices rise.
As The Guardian newspaper noted in 2008, "In China's case the fear is not of individual consumption, but of the multiples of scale and speed of 1.3 billion people growing richer at a rate of more than 10% a year."
An agriculture report from Canada published last July said, "The highest growth in meat demand is likely to occur in emerging markets in Asia -- particularly China. This growth is being driven by changing diet patterns, rising standards of living, urbanisation and population growth, with 80 million new mouths to feed every year."
And because China can't produce all the meat it consumes, exports from other countries result in higher production here, exacerbating the already dire effects of factory farming. (Read the ASI policy paper about how intensive animal agriculture is the greatest single contributor to climate change.)
Without strong demand from domestic consumers, there is little economic incentive for U.S. agribusiness to switch to less intensive but more humane methods of raising animals if doing so adversely impacts their ability to crank out products in high demand abroad.
Then there's fur production, where China ranks second only to Denmark in raising animals killed for fashion.
A "state of the industry" report published last month by the Fur Commission USA said this about Chinese fur production:
"The rollercoaster ride began a decade ago, in 2000, when China produced some 3.3 million pelts. Although it already ranked as the world's number two producer, it was far behind Denmark, with 10.9 million. It then embarked on a feverish expansion, peaking in 2007 with an estimated output of 18 million pelts, or about one-third of world output.
The following year, production plunged to about 12 million, with the blame being pinned on inexperience in mink husbandry, resulting in substandard pelts and low prices. In 2009, the last year in which Oslo Fur Auctions issued its report, output slumped further to just 9 million.
This year, however, FFS predicts output will recover to 12 million again."
The FCUSA concluded, "the economy of China, the biggest buyer of mink pelts and consumer of fur apparel, is robust to the point of overheating."
None of which bodes well for the billions of animals being bred and killed to satisfy this increasing Chinese demand for meat and mink.
Chinese animal welfare groups decried the Canadian seal meat deal and are struggling to establish even minimal humane laws in China, and these groups' existence shows progress. As more Chinese acquire companion animals and are exposed to humane education, attitudes are changing, particularly in urban areas. But the sheer number of Chinese consumers is driving a demand that can undermine efforts elsewhere in the world to curtail animal cruelty.
Published by firstname.lastname@example.org on 01/16/2011 16:26:00
Modified by email@example.com on 01/16/2011 16:49:43