Chinese people appear to be eating more food from animals than they actually need, and this "compensatory consumption of food" may not change until the 2020s.
Wang Dongyang, deputy director of the Institute of Food and Nutrition Development under the Ministry of Agriculture, made the remarks at a media workshop on Wednesday. The workshop examined the new government guideline to develop China's food supply and nutrition.
The guideline was jointly issued on Monday by several government departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
"The guideline aims to help guarantee the supply of quality food and improve people's nutrition," Wang said.
The guideline sets goals for the food industry and nutritional health. By 2020, China's annual grain output will be 550 million metric tons or above, and the food industry's annual growth rate will stay at 10 percent or above, the guideline says.
The annual consumption per capita of meat by 2020 will be 29 kg, while eggs will be 16 kg and dairy products will be 36 kg, it said.
"Various factors, including foreign experiences, food consumption habits, public health, food supply capacity, and the trend of industrialization and urbanization, were considered while setting those figures," he said.
Wang conceded that it's possible the numbers will be higher.
China couldn't ensure an abundant supply of food until the late 1990s, and after that, people tended to experience a period of "compensatory consumption", which might last more than 20 years, Wang said.
In 2010, nearly 28 percent of Chinese ate more than 100 grams of meat daily, a survey of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed.
For health reasons, men should limit daily consumption of meat under 75 grams and women under 50 grams, according to a food consumption guideline from the CDC.
Ma Guansheng, deputy director of the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, said that the consumption of animal food in China might keep increasing for a while.
Yang Yuexin, a veteran researcher of the institute, agreed. "That has been in line with the country's economic growth," she said.
Usually, with economic development, animal food consumption tends to increase, she added.
For instance, while US residents consume more than 100 kg of meat per capita a year, meat consumption there has been on the decline for years.
"We Chinese should try avoiding that kind of overconsumption, which poses public health challenges as well," she said.
In 2010, more than 30 percent of Chinese 18 and older were overweight, and the obesity rate was 12 percent, surveys by the health authorities showed.
Meanwhile, about 260 million people were suffering some sort of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
"These major public health risk factors are closely associated with food consumption," she said.
In response, the government vowed in the latest guideline to establish mechanisms to monitor people's diets, strengthen supervision and information analysis, promote healthy food consumption, and intervene in areas or among groups where people are suffering from bad nutrition.
Also, for a balanced and healthy food consumption, the average daily energy intake of people should be between 2,200 to 2,300 calories, with at least 50 percent of energy provided by grain, and energy provided by fat comprising no more than 30 percent, it specified.
Ma, of the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, said public nutritional health education is important to achieve the target.
On a positive note, recent surveys showed that in large cities, meat consumption stabilized or even declined thanks to rising nutritional health awareness, he said.