China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Starting in 1979, pork became the most produced and consumed meat in the world. The meteoric rise of global pork is due in large part to ongoing political-economic changes in reform era China. Waves of industrialization, liberalization, and capitalization in agriculture since 1978 have transformed a tradition of small-scale integrated pig farming into a highly productive and environmentally destructive pork industry. China today is home to half of the world’s pork production, half of the world’s pork consumption, and half of the world’s pigs. It also boasts the world’s largest pork company (the WH Group, which acquired Smithfield Foods in 2013), as well as a suite of internationally active agribusiness firms operating in pig genetics, feed processing, and pork manufacturing. At the same time, the crises of industrial livestock production have emerged in China, deepening already existing rural-urban and class-based conflicts. Rather than understanding these changes and their implications as unfortunate and inevitable outcomes of a ‘nutrition transition’ or a ‘livestock revolution,’ this paper analyzes pork’s rise in China as an inherently political project. Using the concept of an industrial meat regime, I discuss the politics and practices of China’s pork boom, asking: Why pork? Why now? In whose interests, and to whose detriment? With what (geo)political and environmental implications? With what insights for understanding broader capitalization of food and farming? The paper details how China’s industrial meat regime co-opts and displaces cultural and artisanal practices, rearticulating global trade, institutionalizing inequalities, and externalizing environmental costs.