China is now the world’s largest meat producer, consumer, and importer, with pork products dominating the market. The world’s largest pork company, Virginia-based Smithfield, was acquired by Chinese company Shineway (later named WH Group) in 2013 to meet China’s pork demand. In 2018, China consumed over 41 kilograms of pork per capita. Poultry and beef/veal are the second and third most popular types of meat across the country. In total, China now consumes around 28 percent of the global meat supply.
With local meat production constrained by limited land and water reserves, China continues to import a significant amount of meat from foreign markets. In 2018-2019, multiple severe outbreaks of African swine fever, a fatal pig disease, killed a quarter of the world’s pig population and around 60 percent of the hog heard in China. Naturally, the crisis not only led to the inflation of pork prices, but also boosted pork imports to China by around 70 percent, primarily from Europe and South America. In 2019, to increase meat import volume and diversify the sources China began importing meat from 16 new countries, welcoming even very small suppliers.
China will likely continue to play an important role in global growth of agricultural produce demand, including for meat products. Production and consumption of meat, especially of types that currently have lower per capita consumption rates, such as beef and lamb, are expected to increase by at least 25 percent within the next decade.