Arnold Schwarzenegger to China: Terminate Your Meat-Eating Ways
People in China might soon say “Hasta la vista” to eating meat with their meals.
At least that’s the hope of actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator has teamed up with Academy Award–winning director James Cameron and global health advocates for “5 to Do Today,” a campaign from environmental advocacy group WildAid aimed at reducing meat consumption in the Asian nation.
“China’s move to cut meat consumption in half would not only have a huge impact on public health, it is a massive leadership step towards drastically reducing carbon emissions and reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement,” Cameron said in a statement. “Livestock emits more than all transportation combined. Reducing demand for animal-based foods is essential if we are to [limit] global warming to two degrees Celsius as agreed at COP21.”
“Less meat. Less heat. More life,” Schwarzenegger says in a clip released by WildAid that shows the making of one of the campaign’s PSAs. But along with the reference to a warming planet, the issue is personal for him. Schwarzenegger’s doctors began telling him, “ ‘Arnold you have to get off meat,’ ” he says, so he’s been “slowly getting off meat, and I tell you that I feel fantastic.”
The average Chinese eats more than 300 grams of meat per day, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. That’s like eating a 10-ounce rib eye every day. With the country’s 1.3 billion residents consuming 28 percent of the livestock produced globally, including 50 percent of the world’s pork, the amount eaten adds up quickly. Global meat production and agricultural livestock account for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UNFAO.
The bulk of meat- and agricultural-related emissions comes from manure, feed, and microorganisms that live in livestock’s stomachs to break down carbohydrates, according to Chatham House, an international affairs think tank based in London. It expects global meat consumption to rise 76 percent and dairy consumption 65 percent by 2050, a result of growing populations and incomes.
Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of a vegetarian is roughly half that of a carnivore.
Bob Martin, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future Food System Policy Program, told TakePart that the rise of the middle class in China has increased the demand for beef, pork, and poultry.
“As countries’ economies expand and develop and there becomes a growing middle class, the potential for meat consumption is going to go way up,” said Martin. “Once there’s more disposable income, they want to spend it on meat.”
Along with environmental worries, experts are also concerned about China’s growing obesity epidemic. Roughly one-third of Chinese adults are overweight, and the childhood obesity rate has soared from 5 percent to nearly 20 percent within one generation.
As a result, the Chinese Nutrition Society issued new dietary guidelines in May to lower the amount of meat people consume to 200 grams—less than half a pound—per day. If China follows these dietary guidelines over the next 15 years, global greenhouse gas emissions could fall 1.5 percent.
One of the challenges to reducing meat consumption is the potential effect on the Chinese economy. China produces close to 97 percent of its meat, according to United States Department of Agriculture senior economist Fred Gale. While meat consumption rates have gone up over the last 40 years, a plateau in the last three means that grain farmers are struggling with overproduction, leading the Chinese government to buy up excess crops, Gale said.
“The reverse of that is that Chinese farmers have switched the products they produce to produce more corn in order to feed the livestock sector,” Gale said. “Another thing that’s happened is that they’re producing a large amount of soybeans. Soybeans by volume mostly go into animal feed, so producing less meat would change the structure of what China produces in the countryside and affect a pretty large sector of meat processing.”
The global effect, however, would be less drastic. “If it all happens in the system as market-oriented change, it would tend to even out,” Martin said. “It’d make more sense to use more of the ground now to produce animal feed if the production system changes so that it’s a little more focused on plant production we consume directly.”
Experts and WildAid are hopeful that the Chinese will be willing to make the shift to a plant-based diet. A successful 2014 video campaign to end poaching sharks for shark fin soup also shows that change is possible. That campaign led to a 25 percent decrease in consumption of shark fins in China. A survey for the “5 to Do Today” campaign also found that 83 percent of urban middle-class residents of China are willing to eat vegetarian once a week, and 62 percent are willing to do so twice a week.