China's Pork Miracle?
Agribusiness and Development in China's Pork Industry
Agriculture has helped fuel the “China miracle.” Since 1978, agricultural and food output has soared, Chinese agribusiness firms have become key players in domestic and international markets, and by all accounts, China has been highly successful in overcoming land and resource constraints to feed its population of 1.3 billion people. The country is celebrated for its successes in reducing poverty and hunger over the last 30 years, and more recently, for creating an agrifood system that makes eating “high on the hog” a possibility and reality for many Chinese people.
Pork is at the heart of this miracle. A hallmark of the post-1978 agricultural development model is ramping up the production, sale, and consumption of meat. Processed and packaged meats are the fastest growing market segments, reflecting the increasing influence and operation of pork processors, and the more general trend towards processed foods that can be shipped, stored, and sold with a longer shelf-life in super- and hyper-markets. These trends are also reflected in the Shuanghui (now called the WH Group to take on a more international identity) buyout of Smithfield Foods, a move that will increase China’s pork supplies, strengthen Shuanghui’s brand within China as “safer” meat with higher consumer status because of its US origin, and further generate and shape consumer demand for industrial pork. The Shuanghui-Smithfield deal is a matter of political and economic interest, but also signals a much more basic insight: pork, and the systems and actors that produce it, are central in China’s agrifood system with increasingly global inter-linkages and implications.