The Economist’s December issue has a startling article on the economy of pig, particularly about its consumption in China: Chinese now eat half of the pork in the world.
During my recent trip to Chengdu, we got stuck on the tarmac for nearly 3 hours before taking off. My seat mate was a senior person in the Academy of Agricultural Sciences (農科院). “Not to make Tofu,” she dismissed me with laughs. “We import soy to raise pigs.”
Pig’s “conversion ratio” is roughly 6:1 — every pound of pork needs 6 pounds of feed. China’s soy imports now accounted for more than 50% of the total global soy market. The majority of them become feed.
Like cattle, pigs pollute heavily. Porcine waste gets into tributaries and ground water. They also generate massive amount of methane and nitrous oxide: far worse than CO₂ in their greenhouse effect.
This is one extra point for the Malthusian catastrophe: we will collapse under our own weight of population. The progress toward peace and prosperity, as defined by the first world countries, will be met by the demise of the human civilization. China is now the worse polluting country in the world, yet its pollutant per capita is far less than the first world countries. This means the situation will get worse before it gets better. If India joins the same game, followed by Africa, the global collapse becomes imaginable.
History demonstrated this problem is highly solvable, given the right incentives. Chinese have several obvious choices: gradually raise pork prices to contain consumption, engineer a way to produce pork efficiently without straining the resources too much, outsource pork production to elsewhere to spread out the environmental impacts, change the dietary habit to consume other protein to diffuse the dependency, etc. They will probably do all of the above, albeit slowly.