On 17 September, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) released a report on China’s food and nutrition development. The report gives an overview of the main trends shaping China’s food and nutrition practices in recent decades and highlights current challenges and solutions.
In the past four decades, China’s food production has increased significantly, with annual grain supply reaching 600 kilograms per capita, according to the report. Daily calory supply has reached 3,400 kcal per person, placing China on par with middle and high-income countries. The rapid increase in the consumption of animal products and the diversification of food products are amongst the major achievements of China’s agricultural development, says the report.
But an unbalanced dietary structure, including excessive intake of vegetable oils, salt, and sugar is leading to growing health risks, such as obesity, diabetes, and micronutrient deficiency. The report also points to the loss of nutrient-rich foods through processing, packaging, handling, and transport, estimating that China’s annual nutrient leakage across its food system could meet the nutritional needs of roughly 190 million people, or close to 14% of the population.
To address these issues, the report calls on policymakers to promote a more healthy and low-carbon diet, including the consumption of more coarse grains, aquatic products, and white meat like poultry. Drawing on the concept of “big food” emphasized by Xi Jinping at the Two Sessions meeting in March 2022, the report calls for a transformation towards a nutrition-oriented agrifood system that puts greater emphasis on balanced diets, the reduction of food waste from farm to fork, and sustainable agricultural production methods.
The report highlights the growing emphasis that Chinese policymakers place on nutrition and health, signaling a shift from the previous mono-dimensional preoccupation with yields and staple grain production. While the report falls short of recommending a cut in meat consumption, the shift towards poultry and aquatic products could help promote health outcomes and reduce pressure on China’s feed grain demand, most of which the country needs to import from abroad. The transformation towards a healthier, more sustainable agrifood system should also help reduce agricultural emissions, says the report, without providing further details on how this goal could be achieved.