Open Philanthropy Project Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter
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How Can We Improve Farm Animal Welfare in China?

Any plan to address global farm animal welfare needs to include China. Home to a quarter of the world's land farm animals and more than half its farmed fish -- at least according to possibly inflated official statistics -- China confines more egg laying hens than the next 13 largest egg producing nations combined, and as many pigs as the rest of the world combined. This production is driven by domestic demand: Chinese per capita meat consumption has risen fivefold in the last three decades, and now exceeds that of much wealthier Japan.

China accounts for a much larger share of global farm animal numbers than its next closest competitors, the United States, European Union, Indonesia, and India, especially in pig and farmed fish production. Source: FAO statistics on 2014 live animal numbers for broilers chickens, pigs, and other land farm animals; my own estimates for layer hens based on 2013 FAO egg production statistics; and estimates for fish numbers based on 2010 FAO toonage statistics, which I’ve adjusted to account for production growth since 2010.

Chinese production is also rapidly industrializing. As recently as 2000, ~75% of Chinese pigs were produced by “backyard farmers,” producing fewer than 50 pigs/year, and ~65% of chicken production came from “non-intensive farms” producing fewer than 2,000 chickens/year. By 2010, those numbers had fallen to ~35% of pigs and ~30% of chickens respectively, as large-scale intensive farms took over the majority of production. Major US producers, like Cargill and Tyson Foods, have started building US style factory farms in China to meet the demand from rapidly expanding fast food chains like KFC, which now has more stores in China than in the US.

The rise in China’s farm animal numbers has been driven by a huge increase in large scale chicken farming since 1980, and a significant increase in duck and pig farming. Source: FAO 1965-2014 live animal statistics, which measure the number of live animals at same point in time each year.

Given China’s lack of any animal cruelty law, well-publicized abuses at Chinese fur farms, animal circuses, and dog meat festivals, and a new NGO law that makes it hard for foreigners to support local Chinese groups, it would be easy to give up on farm animal welfare in China as a hopeless cause. Easy, but wrong. In the rest of this newsletter, I outline three reasons I’m cautiously optimistic about the potential to improve farm animal welfare in China -- and some ways we may be able to speed up those improvements.

First, the Chinese public supports farm animal welfare. In the most comprehensive poll to date, Nanjing Agricultural University researchers surveyed 6,006 Chinese citizens across 29 of China’s 34 regions. (This survey had problems, e.g. a skewed sample population and some leading questions, but it’s the most rigorous survey on this topic that I’m aware of.) Although a majority of survey respondents had never heard of animal welfare, and a slight majority viewed factory farming positively, just 7.9% endorsed the statement “Pigs and domestic fowls are only beast, and people can treat them as they wish.” A majority of respondents also supported farm animal welfare legislation, and 69.7% and 74.3% of respondents thought it was “inappropriate” to rear pigs on cement floor and “kill fowls near the cages in which fowls are kept” -- both standard practices on Chinese and American pig and egg farms alike.

The majority of survey respondents took the pro-animal welfare view, except in their opinion of factory farming generally. These results aggregate supportive and negative responses -- which took different forms, e.g. “disapprove” or “think inappropriate” -- from multiple questions in the survey. Source: You, X., Li, Y., Zhang, M., Yan, H., & Zhao, R. (2014). A Survey of Chinese Citizens’ Perceptions on Farm Animal Welfare. PLoS ONE, available here.

Second, Chinese consumers are concerned about where their food comes from, thanks in part to a series of well-publicized food safety scandals -- from KFC’s tainted chicken to the sale of 40-year old meat -- that have left more Chinese concerned about food safety than about other major social issues, like education and unemployment. This has created a rapidly growing niche market for better produced food, including higher welfare meat: China is now the third-ranking market for ethical food labels, according to the Institute for Food Technologists. We’re supporting this trend through Brighter Green, which is promoting a “good food” movement in cooperation with documentary director Jian Yi. This trend has also spurred a broader interest from fast food chains and producers in auditing their supply chains. For example, McDonald’s hired US animal welfare consultant Temple Grandin to train its Chinese meat suppliers. This presents an opportunity to engage with producers on adopting higher welfare methods, as Compassion in World Farming is doing through its Good Pig awards.


Third, the Chinese government appears increasingly interested in addressing farm animal welfare and meat consumption levels. The government seems to have recognized that inhumane slaughter practices could jeopardize food safety and access to export markets. It has indirectly sought the help of international NGOs to adopt best practices at slaughter, by encouraging them to partner with GONGOs (Government Organized NGOs), like the International Cooperation Committee on Animal Welfare. Some of these partnerships, like the one with our grantee World Animal Protection and other soon-to-be announced grantees, are now addressing best practices for on-farm animal welfare too. Some portions of the government also appear to have recognized that rising meat consumption levels are unsustainable for public health and the environment. This has created an opening for our grantee WildAid to launch a campaign encouraging Chinese to eat less meat, in partnership with the Chinese Nutrition Society and China's National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. Its new public service announcements feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron and Li Bingbing calling for “less meat, less heat, more life.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at the opportunities for farm animal welfare in China. Next month, I’ll look at the state of US policy opportunities to help farm animals, as a new Administration and Congress take over in Washington DC. In the meantime, I hope you have a great weekend and a very happy holidays!

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