Soybeans Consumption and Production in China: Sustainability Perspective

Soybeans Consumption and Production in China: Sustainability Perspective

Xiumei Guo, Xiaoling Shao, Shagufta M. Trishna, Dora Marinova, Amzad Hossain
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch007
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China is the world's top consumer and largest importer of soybeans used as human food and livestock feed. Since the 1980s, China's meat consumption has been growing despite this being an inefficient way of feeding the world's largest population. It diverts resources which can be used directly for human consumption. If the Chinese people were to maintain or expand their high consumption of soybean-based foods instead of switching to a meat-rich diet, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced, and natural resource use improved. This chapter examines the trends in soy consumption and production in China and explores people's dietary preferences for soybeans, including concerns about the import of genetically modified soybeans. Without diverting soybeans to animal feed, the demand for them will decrease and will make China more self-sufficient. This study also provides educational guidance about the health benefits of plant-based foods and environmental damage associated with high consumption of animal-based products.
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It is well known that China is not able to produce enough soybeans for processing to meet the growing demands for human soybean-based food and animal feed for livestock. With the increasing household incomes of the Chinese people, their demand for meat and other animal-based foods is also growing. Foods that were once considered unaffordable or foreign are now part of the transition to more western style dietary habits (Ma Verkuil, Reinbach, & Meinert, 2017).

Although pork continues to be the dominate animal protein, there is surging interest in beef and poultry with China’s total and per capita meat consumption on the rise since the 1980s (Nam, Jo, & Lee, 2010). Meat production reached 86.45 million tonnes in 2014 and annual meat consumption was 61.82 kg per person per year in 2013 (Ritchie & Roser, 2018). In 2014, the number of livestock animals raised for human consumption in China included 480 million pigs, 114 million cattle and 5.58 billion poultry compared to respectively 326 million, 52 million and 1.18 billion in 1980 (Ritchie & Roser, 2018).

Since the discovery by animal nutritionists that combined with grain, soybean can be used very efficiently as feed for livestock and poultry to boost the production of animal protein, soybeans have been consistently given to farm animals (Brown, 2011). As China’s appetite for animal-based products, such as meat and milk grew, so did the conversion of soybeans to animal meal (Brown, 2011). According to Brown from the Earth Policy Institute (2011, p. 95), “since half of the world’s pigs are in China, the lion’s share of soy use is in pig feed. Its fast-growing poultry industry is also dependent on soybean meal”.

This is in sharp contrast with the traditional use of soy which was domesticated as a garden plant by Chinese farmers around 1100 BC (NC Soybean Producers Association, 2014). The legume plant was named “miracle crop” because of its versatile properties and its ability to produce oil and other byproducts suitable for human consumption, such as tofu and soy drinks (U.S. Soybean Export Council, 2006). More recently, soybeans have been grown commercially all around the world for animal feed. In this day and age, “[s]oybean oil is the most widely used edible oil in the world and soybean meal is the leading protein and energy source for animal feeds” (U.S. Soybean Export Council, 2006, p. 4). Soy is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and other industries, as a lubricant, in inks, paints and varnishes as well as biofuel.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Import: Goods or commodities brought into a country across its borders.

Soy: (Also soybean and soya). A legume plant native to East Asia with a high content of complete protein and beneficial nutritional value.

Protein: An organic substance – polymer chains of amino acids, considered an essential nutrient for the human body; there are 20 types of amino acids representing the building blocks for the human proteins – 11 are non-essential which can be synthesized by the human organism and 9 are essential which need to be provided by food.

Trade Liberalization: Removal of barriers or other restrictions to the free movement of goods and commodities between countries.

Yuba: (Also tofu skin, bean curd skin, bean curd sheet or bean curd robe). A food product made from soybeans during the boiling of soy milk; the thin skin formed at the top of the boiling pan is collected and dried in sheets which can be used as wraps.

Genetically Modified (GM): (Also genetically engineered). Applied to food crops and organisms whose genetic material, namely deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur in nature.

Fermented: A food which has been through the process of fermentation, that is, chemical breakdown of its substance by bacteria, yeast, or other microorganisms.

Soybean Meal: A product prepared from soybeans to be used in animal feed as a source of protein; very often soybean meal is made from the residue after the oil from the soybean has been extracted.

Tofu: Soy bean curd often used as a meat alternative; it is very popular in Asian countries, such as China and Japan, and more recently has started to also be included in a western type of diet.

Social Marketing: Marketing which aims at inducing a behavioral change and maintaining such behavior for the greater social good, including benefits for the individual and society as a whole.

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