Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 February 2007
In 1996 the population of China reached 1.23 billion, 22 % of the world population, and is expected to increase to 1.5 billion by 2020. As China has only 7 % of the world's arable land such population increases are likely to have an important impact on food supply in China and the world. Projections of the potential impact are discussed. The restructuring of Chinese agriculture at the end of the 1970s has led to dramatic increases in agricultural production and food consumption, in particular of animal products, fruit and vegetables. Along with these rapid changes there is evidence of a nutrition transition in which diseases associated with affluence are becoming more prevalent than deficiency diseases. This transition has led to concern about the evolving dietary pattern. The replacement of legumes, including soyabean, by meat and other animal products as rich sources of protein and other nutrients has been controversially argued on grounds of nutritional health, ecological impact, economic effects and world food supply. These arguments are reviewed and the pressures internal and external to China concerning the production and consumption of animal v. legume products are presented. It is concluded that nutritional policies to promote the consumption of soyabean are unlikely to be effective in the context of an increasingly free and global market.