A Thirst for Meat: Changes in Diet, Rising Population May Strain China's Water Supply
Perkins, Sid, Science News
China's rapid industrialization and increasing population, along with a growing dietary preference among its citizens for meat, are straining the country's water resources to the point where food imports will probably be needed to meet demand in coming decades.
Economic growth in China is brisk: Over the past 2 decades, the country's gross domestic product has risen, on average, about 8 percent per year. That's the highest rate of development in recent world history, says Junguo Liu, an environmental scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dubendorf. Accompanying that growth has been a jump in urbanization and per capita income, both of which have contributed to significant changes in the Chinese diet.
Chinese consumption of staples such as corn, rice, and wheat has changed little in recent years, even dropping somewhat in the last decade, data suggest. However, consumption of more water-intensive fruits and vegetables, now the largest part of the average Chinese diet, has more than quadrupled since the early 1960s. A more significant strain on water resources, says Liu, is the dramatic rise in meat consumption. Since 1980, the Chinese yen for meat has nearly quadrupled, he notes.
While cereal crops such as rice or wheat require between 0.84 and 1.3 cubic meters of water for each I kilogram of yield, it takes about 12.6 [m.sup.3] of water to produce 1 kg of beef. Even though meat and other animal products made up only 16 percent of the typical Chinese diet in 2003, those foodstuffs accounted for more than one-half of the country's food-related per capita water consumption, says Liu. He and colleague Hubert H.G. Savenije of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands report their findings in an upcoming Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. …