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China's Food Industry Reports Healthy Progress

On the 20th anniversary of the founding of the China Food Industry Association, representatives of some Chinese 100 enterprises gathered last month at the China Food Industry’s Development Forum in the New Century to discuss the state of the food industry in China. The assessment of the government officials, scholars and CEOs at the forum: The food industry in China has distinguished itself above all other national industries, expanding its range to offer higher quality and variety of foods to the food market and matching the gradual rising living standard of the Chinese people. Since 1996, the industry has ranked first among all industries in total output value.

The annual rate of increase in the total value of China’s food industry output from 1980 to 2000 was 13.1 percent, realizing a goal stated in the Outline for China Food Industry from 1981-2000 earlier than expected. In 2001, from January to October, the whole country’s food sale achieved 708.71 billion yuan (US$85.73 billion), a 13.38 percent increase compared to the same period of the year before. Meanwhile, the food industry fulfilled the industrial output value of 740.92 billion yuan (US$89.63 billion) against the current market price, an 11.72 percent increase compared to the same period of the year before. It is estimated that the industrial output of the whole year 2001 in the food industry against the current price will be 954.6 billion yuan (US$115.47 billion), an 11 percent increase compared with that of year 2000.

As far as profit and tax are concerned, from January to October of 2001, the food industry contributed 136.91 billion yuan (US$16.56 billion), a 16.11 percent increase compared to the same period the year before. And it is expected that the figure will reach 169.3 billion yuan (US$20.48 billion), or an 18.4 percent increase compared to all of the previous year.

Challenges facing the food industry include meeting varying nutritional requirements for different consumers, increasing the available amount of high-quality protein food and food that is rich in minerals and vitamins, and some basic high-quality but low-priced food staples. A still higher standard is demanded of the food industry if it is to further consumer ability to pursue a nutritious diet while provide fundamental agricultural products. A recent survey suggests that among the some 2500 calories of energy burned by the average person in China, protein takes up 72 grams, and fat 60 grams, enough to meet the basic demands to live on. But the average amount of high-quality protein that one takes in accounts for 25 percent, much lower than the international standard of 35 percent. Even worse, this percentage is even lower in the countryside.

Another survey of 16-year-old children living in the countryside also indicates that the average height of the child is 1.58 meters, two centimeters shorter than the children living in urban areas, and those in countryside also experience a comparative slow growth. On the other hand, more people living in the cities are suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

China is rich in various food resources thanks to its expansive and accessible geography for planting consumer food stuffs. However, the participants at the conference also indicated that many food resources haven’t been effectively tapped such as some marine resources, edible mushrooms, insects, herbs (for both food and medicine), and some wild plants. All of these resources have the advantages of being richly varied, widely available, natural and without any bad effects. At the same time, they are unique in style, some of them with both nutritional and medicinal benefits. Through developing these resources, foods can be obtained so as to add the variety of food available and help raise people’s living standard. Take Changbai Mountain for instance, its southwest slope alone includes some 188 resources worth developing, and yet so far only eight have been collected and produced for consumption. As for many other natural foods growing in mountainous regions, their very existence remains unnoticed. So, forum participants noted, China should take scientific measures to protect traditional foods and processing techniques related to those foods which have special standing in social economy and cultural heritage.

Individual forum participants also made the following observations:

  • Li Shijing, chairman of the Beijing Food Industry Association: Because of a serious food shortage in the 1980s, people had to buy grain food, oil, eggs, milk and meat with allocated coupons. At that time, for instance, the Arctic Ocean Company had to start production three months in advance to have enough beverages to supply people’s needs for the May 1st holiday. The main task of our work at that time was to solve conflicts between supply and demand. However, today it’s a totally different story. A short time ago, Beijing discovered that among the top five brands of 17 kinds of foods categories surveyed in 300 shops, 50 percent came from joint ventures, 35 percent from state-owned enterprises and the remaining 15 percent from privately-owned enterprises. The new structure of the food industry has been largely established; people have more options in choosing their food; and the annual food value of food consumed has hit 10 billion yuan (US$1209 million) in Beijing alone. The focus of our work is to make city life more varied, agricultural more market-oriented, family food preparation more convenient, food substances more nutritious, so as to guarantee that food quality, sanitation and nutrition meets a high standard.

  • Lu Liangshu, director of the State Food and Nutrition Consultant Commission:Chinese citizens have fully stepped into a period with a comparatively well-off living standard. Thanks to an increase in personal income, people have begun to demand a higher-quality life, putting emphasis on a more rational, healthy and well-balanced nutritional diet. It is estimated that by 2010, Chinese citizens’ food consumption structure and level will come into a middle stage of a comparatively well-off living standard, the food quality for Chinese citizens will be definitely improved. By the year 2020, Chinese people’s nutrition structure in their diet will step into a new phase, approaching Asian developed countries or regions’ nutrition structure level and assuring that the calories and protein each person takes in per day meets a rational standard. By the year 2030, the annual food consumption is expected to reach 450 kilogram per person, but the average grain ration per person will decrease to some extent. The meat consumption per person will be comparatively stable, with a continuing increase in poultry, lamb and beef. And the consumption of aquaculture products and milk products will witness a rapid increase.

  • Jiang Chunyun, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress: Compared with other developed countries, China still lags behind in terms of the processing ability for agricultural and affiliated products. As for the developed countries, the industrial output value for food processing is always three times agricultural output, but in China, the processing output value only takes up less than 80 percent of agricultural output. The labor force for comprehensive food-processing on the agricultural and related products in developed countries is more than five times than that for agricultural production. However, in China, only less than one-fifth of the labor force is involved in the food-processing industry. All of this data suggest that China’s food industry still has huge potential and much room to develop itself in years to come. The food industry should speed up its pace of development based on its history and current situation.

    (北京青年报 [Beijing Youth Daily], December 5, 2001 by Wei Shiping, translated by Feng Shu for China.org.cn)

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