Forecasting The Consumption Of Chickens In China
Historically, pig meat has reigned supreme in Chinese meat consumption. Over the past few years, however, Chinese use of pigs for food dropped precipitously due to the African Swine Fever that ravaged its stocks. As a result, production and consumption of chicken meat in China skyrocketed, growing by double-digit percentage points in 2019 and fully 20% higher than was initially expected. In a country of over one billion people, this has profound implications for animal, environmental, and economic welfare. Moreover, Chinese consumption of chickens is projected to continue expanding through 2021.
Crucially, to the extent that this newfound consumption returns to pre-African Swine Fever levels, a recent agronomics report finds that it will not be because of a decreased use of these animals, but rather, simply because consumption of pigs will rebound. To be more specific, while relative levels of chicken consumption may fall, absolute levels will remain as they are presently. This implies that Chinese consumption of meat will be substantially higher across the board than it was before the fever outbreak. Beyond an increased appetite for chicken domestically, this spike in popularity will also affect Chinese exports of the birds’ meat. While over 775,000 metric tons of chicken will be eaten by Chinese consumers in 2021, exports to other countries in the region are simultaneously expected to jump by fully twelve percent. Summing China’s expected total import and export of chicken meat in 2021, the country will “use” over 15.3 million metric tons.
Importantly, not all chicken meat is considered equal. The most popular varieties of chicken in descending order are white broiler, yellow broiler, and hybrid. Relevant to the lives of these birds, unfortunately, the most popular sub-varieties within each group are the fastest growing and often worst-treated birds. For example, the fastest-growing chicks of the yellow broiler variety reach maturity in just 50 days—less than half the time it takes for their slow-growth counterparts. Although an oversupply has reduced the demand for yellow broiler, hybrids—a unique Chinese variety—have gained previously untold popularity amongst suppliers. Hybrids mature in a mere 35 days and as a result, now account for as much as 40% of the overall stock.
The implications for animal welfare are clear and pressing: a growing market for the meat of non-human animals in as large a population as China would drastically increase the amount of suffering, particularly amongst chickens and pigs, short of powerful laws protecting them. Environmentally, this presents an imminent danger as well; the carbon emissions from raising and slaughtering these creatures will be immense. The concern for environmental and animal welfare advocates, in this emerging market is abundant and can hopefully be channeled effectively towards championing better conditions for the animals in harm’s way as well as the global ecosystem writ large.