Wednesday, 16 July 2014

How increased international trade in beef and lamb can help feed the world population?

Following the recent World Meat Congress, guest blogger Audrey Moulierac, from the AHDB office in Brussels, takes a look at some of the issues raised.

As delegates from around the world gathered to discuss the challenges ahead for the global meat industry – during the 20th session of the World Meat Congress held in Beijing from 14 to 16 June – the question of the sector’s responsibility in feeding a growing world population needed to be addressed. Latest estimates indeed show that the world will need an extra 60 per cent of animal-based proteins by 2050.

When tackling food security and the sustainability of agriculture, it seems more and more obvious that we moved from a paradigm where meat was referred to as part of the problem to one where it has become part of the solution.

Even speakers from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) acknowledged the importance of the livestock sector, which employs over 1.3 billion people around the world and provides a livelihood for 1 billion of the poorest people.

How can the meat industry take part in feeding the 9 billion then? The main answer heard at the Congress – although not the only one – was trade.

The way forward to tackle food availability is to push for free trade, not just for production, stressed Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. While many delegates agreed, adding that worldwide trade barriers should be dismantled and that only science-based barriers were acceptable, it was clear that there is no quick fix.

Obviously, pushing for increased trade with a country like China will bring direct benefits, not least of which, as it was highlighted on several occasions, is the fact that developed countries have saturated markets and the EU and the US are increasingly dependent on China for carcase valuation.

It was no surprise then that China, host of this Congress on “Balanced Development of Global Meat Production and Trade”, should be the centre of attention. Because of its increasing share in the world’s meat demand, China is set to becoming a major influencer in the global meat market. China’s meat demand already represents about 40 per cent of overall global demand and will keep rising due to its growing middle class, urbanisation and changing eating habits.

But the Chinese meat industry cannot currently guarantee supply, in particular for beef and sheep meat. Cattle and sheep herds are declining in China, as significant restructuring is taking place and in the recent years the country has been increasingly dependent on imports. Many Chinese delegates therefore highlighted the importance of international trade, not only to meet the growing meat demand but also to address the declining breeding stock. They advocated throughout the Congress for an increased international cooperation, in particular for assistance on food safety standards, a major concern in China – and asked that their country increases its level of openness and tackles barriers to trade.

Closing the last session of the Congress, Neil Fraser, chair of the FAO-led Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock initiative, picked up on the discussions on international trade and cooperation. With the diversity of production systems around the world, he concluded, there is no single answer to sustainability in the livestock sector but a need for collective, global action.