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2nd Revision


Arguments - Intervention Costs

The costs and benefits of a campaign to reduce meat and animal fat consumption have to be compared with the costs and benefits of other health campaigns, such as campaigns against smoking, which is increasing rapidly in China. Promoting a vegetarian diet in China might save some cropland that would otherwise be used for feed grain production; it might also lower the environmental impact of livestock production; and it might reduce the prevalence of coronary and circulatory diseases. A similar campaign against smoking, however, would have much greater health impact. It could prevent millions of premature deaths in China, and it would also slow the conversion of cropland areas for tobacco cultivation, which has more than tripled since 1978.

Crucial Issues
There are two problems to consider:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The economic and social costs of intervention measures
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The ratio of benefits to costs
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The economic and social costs of intervention measures
All three possibilities for promoting a vegetarian diet in China – education, incentives, and compulsory measures – are either not very effective or costly (or both). Health campaigns promoting a vegetarian diet are probably a waste of money, because most Chinese do not consider high meat consumption a health or environmental problem.
Measures that increase the price of meat or animal products for the consumer, such as taxes or price controls, would distort the emerging free market for food in China. This would mark a return to state intervention in the food sector. Finally, the authorities could try to directly regulate livestock production (quotas, limited licenses, penalties for overproduction, etc.). However, this would only increase agricultural administration and discourage the entrepreneurial spirit among Chinese farmers. These measures would also be hard to control.
The ratio of benefits to costs
From a public health point of view, there are certainly more critical trends in China than the increase in meat and animal fat consumption. Smoking is rapidly becoming a serious public health crisis in China. This lifestyle trend is also related to land-use change. Between 1978 and 1997, China's domestic tobacco production more than tripled and the total area of tobacco cultivation increased from 784,000 to 2.4 million ha. The size of China's tobacco cultivation area is now significantly larger than the total net losses of cropland between 1988 and 1995, which were about 1.7 million ha.
Related Arguments

Diet Change:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)