The facts: Food security has risen as a concern in China as global supply chains were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The national campaign against food week that had started this summer was incorporated into Golden Week celebrations and became a trending topic alongside the week-long holiday. On August 10, President Xi Jinping issued a stern warning on food security and called on citizens to reduce food waste. A national campaign followed and there was widespread compliance reported across the country. Beijing has put a positive patriotic spin on the issue with the “Clean Plates” movement (光盘行动) aimed at rallying the country to reduce food waste. Xi called on the country to see wasting food as shameful, and frugality an attribute to be proud of (营造浪费可耻、节约为荣的氛围). The campaign went viral online, and schools, restaurants, corporates, and the public have been keen to show off how much food waste they reduce.
What to watch: Ensuring stable supply remains a serious challenge. China had earlier halted meat imports from countries where workers in meatpacking factories suffered Covid-19 infections. Prices of staples like pork and vegetables have skyrocketed in China due to shortages caused by the African swine flu, extreme flooding and the Covid-19 pandemic as food-producing countries halt exports and hoard supplies. China consumes more than it produces. For years, policymakers have tried but failed to make the country self-reliant, so it relies on imports to meet growing domestic demand especially in grains and meat.
MERICS analysis: “A national campaign to reduce food waste is not new. But for the call to come from the most powerful person in China signals a potential looming food shortage crisis,” says MERICS analyst Valarie Tan. “Food security is a top political priority ingrained in the history of the Communist Party. Social unrest as a result of acute food shortage has always been a major concern.”