China - Feb 19
China's growing appetite for U.S.-style meat production (Mia MacDonald)
Anna Lappe, Gristmill
Old MacDonald had a farm -- one resounding with oinks and moos and squawks. By today's standards, the old man's farm would count as a model of biodiversity. Researcher Mia MacDonald points out that across the planet, old ways of farming are giving way to the environmentally devastating factory farms we've pioneered in the West -- typically housing a single species of animal, confined by the thousands in conditions that would be alien to Old MacDonald's pigs and cows and chickens. For modern industrial-scale animal farms, the proper literary form is the scathing environmental report, not the children's ditty.
At Brighter Green, an action think tank that helps advocacy groups take informed action through research and analysis, MacDonald is currently at work on a series of case studies on the spread of factory-style farming across the globe. She's cutting straight to the chase: China, the world's biggest nation, is the subject of the first case study.
... A.L.: What are the trend lines about meat and dairy consumption in China? How does this compare with our diets? Is China becoming a "fast food nation"?
M.M.: Since 1980, meat consumption in China has risen four-fold. It's now about 119 pounds per person a year, just over half the average American's per capita annual meat consumption of 220 pounds.
In 2007, China raised and slaughtered 700 million pigs. That's about 10 times the number in the U.S., although pork is China's most popular meat and China's population is more than four times as large as the U.S.'s, dairy consumption is rising even faster; the dairy industry in China has grown 20 percent a year over the past decade, and consumption of milk products in China has risen three times since 2000.
Whether or not China becomes a fully fledged "fast food nation" is an open question, but the trends suggest it will. Or will try to be. Whether there is going to be sufficient ecological space and climate space for such an expansion of meat and dairy consumption isn't fully clear.
(17 February 2009)
Less is more approach to fertiliser could boost farmers
Catherine Brahic, New Scientist
Chinese farmers could cut their synthetic fertiliser use – and their bills – by up to 60% without harming their yields and profits, research shows.
Using less fertiliser would also improve drinking water, soil and ocean pollution, and human health. Although nitrogen fertilisers often bring improved yields of crops, they can leach into drinking water, evaporate into the air, and trigger damaging blooms of problematic algae or phytoplankton in rivers, lakes and seas. On top of all that, nitrogen oxides are powerful greenhouse gases.
Xiao-Tang Ju of the China Agricultural University in Beijing and colleagues calculated the "ideal" amount of fertiliser for a variety of real wheat, rice and maize fields in the north and east of the country.
Using years of agricultural data, the researchers calculated the point of diminishing returns, beyond which adding more fertiliser has little significant effect on yields and instead simply eats into profits.
They then put their theory into practice.
(16 February 2009)
Parched China to slash water consumption by 60%
Fred Pearce, New Scientist
As rivers run dry and fields turn to dust, China has announced dramatic plans to cut water use by industry and agriculture.
Water resources minister Chen Lei said it would cut the amount of water needed to produce each dollar of GDP by 60% by 2020. With the economy on course to grow by 60% by then, that effectively means it wants to consume no more water then than today.
The announcement suggests that the government has finally decided that it cannot rely on "supply-side" solutions to water shortages, like the $60-billion south-north water transfer scheme, which is aimed at watering the arid north with water from the giant Yangtze river in the south.
It comes after China's worst drought in half a century, and increased water shortages caused by industrial pollution that makes river water unfit for drinking, even after treatment.
(16 February 2009)