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Arguments - Intervention Possibilities

Not much can be done to influence people's dietary preferences, at least not in a free society. Compulsory measures to restrict production of meat, for instance, or economic interventions to increase meat prices are counterproductive to China's economic reforms and would probably backfire. Although Chinese health officials are becoming concerned about the increasing health risk associated with the already high levels of meat and animal fat consumption in some urban areas, these concerns are not relevant for a great majority of the population. In fact, in many parts of rural China, animal protein consumption is still quite low (the average is misleading due to the skewed distribution of meat supply between cities and rural areas).

Crucial Issues
Here, we discuss three questions:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Why would the Chinese authorities want to influence the food preferences of the population?
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) What possibilities exist for influencing dietary preferences?
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Can we expect these measures to be effective?
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Why would the Chinese authorities want to influence the food preferences of the population?  
There are two primary reasons. First, the authorities might want to reduce (or stabilize) the people’s meat and animal fat consumption to slow the rapid increase in feed crop demand. Feed crop cultivation directly competes with food crop production for high-quality cropland. The authorities might also have environmental concerns (such as problems with manure). Second, they might want to promote public health. In some big cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai, public health campaigns have been started to educate the public about the dangers of excessive animal meat and fat consumption. Their objective is to prevent an increase in obesity and circulatory diseases, which are beginning to show up in these urban areas. Depending on the objective, different intervention measures would be necessary.  
What possibilities exist for influencing dietary preferences?  
In principle, three measures might influence diet preferences. (1) One could run information and education campaigns that would try to convince people that reduced consumption of meat and animal products would be good for their health. (2) It is possible to implement economic interventions (taxes, production restrictions, etc.) that would increase meat prices. (3) Free trade in meat and animal products could be restricted by the state and be handled by a state distribution system. These intervention measures, however, are only theoretical possibilities. They are either not very effective or counterproductive to China's economic reforms.  
Can we expect these measures to be effective?
Traditional Chinese dishes are often rich in meat, animal fat, and other animal products, such as offal. Beijing duck and numerous pork dishes are famous Chinese specialities. For the average person, one of the great achievements of China's economic reforms was that such delicacies became available to broad sections of the population. Protein-rich food has a high priority in China's everyday life. Unlike the mostly vegetarian food cultures of India and Japan, that of China has a positive image of (red) meat and other animal-based foods. This would make it very difficult to lower China's demand for (red) meat. We should also not forget that in rural areas many people still cannot afford to consume large amounts of meat and animal products.
Moreover, it would not only be difficult to convince consumers in China of the advantages of a vegetarian diet, but farmers would probably also resist such measures. For farmers, raising livestock is an important insurance policy against crop failure - meat is not a seasonal product, such as grain or vegetables. Animals can be slaughtered when drought or flooding has destroyed the harvest.
Related Arguments

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

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