Figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing show annual livestock and poultry production totalled 83.73 million tonnes (mt) last year, an increase of 1.8% year-on-year. The figure represents a significant slowdown on the growth recorded in 2012, when Chinese meat output rose 5.4% to 82mt. Yet output seems largely on target to hit a government target of 85mt by 2015, a figure set by the government’s current Five Year Plan.
Pork accounted for the bulk of the overall output in 2013 – 54.93mt of pork production. But 2013 pig herds, at 474,110,000 head, were down 0.4% on 2012 while pig slaughter, at 715,570,000, represented an increase of 2.5% over the previous year.
As yet, the statistics bureau has not broken down the data into beef and mutton output. But data from one of the country’s most rural regions showed that weaker pork prices through much of 2013, as well as several food safety and disease issues around poultry (including an ongoing bird flu outbreak) appear to have accelerated the shift to beef and mutton production. The south-westerly province of Guizhou has reported that while overall meat production rose 4.6% year-on-year in 2013 to 1.9mt, output of beef grew fastest, by 8.7% to total 141,000t. Output of pork – which accounts for 82% of all meat output – totalled 1.637mt, up 4.9% year on year. Poultry production at 155,000t rose a mere 0.5% while sheep meat production at 35,000t was down 0.7% on 2012.
Yet the sustainability of Guizhou’s increase in beef output looks questionable at best. Guizhou slaughtered 1.15 million cattle in 2013, an increase of 8.7%. But in a province famed for idyllic scenes of water buffalo working rice paddies, the provincial Animal Husbandry Bureau has pointed to "slowly reduced numbers of labour cattle… some of which are entering the beef market".
Indeed the provincial cattle population stood at 4.66 million, down 0.1%. Profits from beef production are "significantly higher" than earnings from pig farming, noted the bureau in a statement.
Other factors may impact on beef output: China’s milk production at 35.31mt was down 5.7%, signalling a stalling of cow numbers due to quality and environmental concerns – this may also have a knock-on effect on local beef herd numbers. The government has frequently pointed to dairy herds as a source of calves for beef fatteners.
The drivers of Chinese meat consumption, meanwhile, look intact – not least income growth. China’s national income growth here in 2013 largely kept pace with expectations, despite flat overall GDP growth (7.7% in 2013). Per capita income for farmers averaged RMB8,896 in 2013, according to government rural affairs czar Chen Xinwen in an address to the press at the Ministry of Agriculture this week: that’s an increase of RMB979 on 2012 and a 9.3% rise when adjusted for inflation. Per capita disposable income of China’s urbanites meanwhile grew 7% in 2013.