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Asia at risk from intensive farming

A range of health and environmental risks associated with Asian meat production has the potential to significantly impact businesses and threaten investor returns in the region, a new report has warned.

Asia’s meat, seafood and dairy industries face a range of badly managed sustainability risks, from deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to food fraud and the misuse of antibiotics, according to a new report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) initiative.

The report reviews risks around five issues that it says could result in greater regulatory controls, price volatility, weaker consumer demand and continuity problems in supply chains, all of which could impair businesses and jeopardise investor returns.

The issues highlighted are food safety and nutrition; public health risks due to antibiotic resistance and the outbreak of livestock viruses; the high environmental footprint of meat production; changing consumer views on animal welfare standards; and labour standards.

Asian meat demand is predicted to grow 19% from 2013 to 2025 to 144m tonnes.

FAIRR noted that a shift towards more intensive farming practices in China in particular is driving up antibiotic use, just as there is a global push to reduce usage in the face of antibiotic resistance. China already consumes almost half of the world’s antibiotics, and due to increased intensive farming, Asia is estimated to increase antibiotic usage in chicken and pigs by 129% and 124% respectively by 2030.

The report stated that threats in Asia also affect the global supply chain. In 2016, China’s demand for animal feed saw it import 35% of Brazil’s total soybean production – encouraging further deforestation in South America – with potentially enormous consequences for global carbon budgets.

Despite the focus on risk, the report said there are also excellent opportunities in Asian markets for more sustainable production. It highlighted that consumer concerns, particularly over health and safety, are resulting in increased demand for differentiated products such as organic meat, vegetarian and plant-based foods or higher welfare meats. Between 2012 and 2016, new product launches with vegetarian claims increased by 140% and new product launches with vegan claims increased by 440% in Southeast Asia.