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China's Food Future

Feb 06,2021

China's Food Future

China, a country with one fifth of the world's population, has less than 10% of the world's total arable land and a declining trend over the past decade; its arable land per capita is far below the world average and crop production is highly fragmented, with more than 230 million rural households owning an average of 0.6 hectares of land per household. In the face of severe production resource constraints and a highly fragmented food supply chain, China faces various challenges in food safety, food security and sustainable food development. to effectively address these challenges, China has promulgated a series of policies and has prioritised the development of the cold chain in its 13th Five-Year Plan, focusing on the development of efficient and environmentally friendly cold chain equipment and the best green supply chain technologies. in 2017, the Chinese government released a policy document on Cold Chain policy document, emphasising the importance of implementing a cold chain across the supply chain, setting out requirements for modern infrastructure, industry standards and effective regulation.

Most of China's agricultural products are not yet penetrated by the cold chain posing a threat to food safety.

In 2015, only 22% of fruits and vegetables, 34% of meat products and 41% of fishery products in China had cold chain penetration, compared to 95-100% in Europe.


Inefficient food storage and transportation systems lead to food spoilage and waste. Improving the standard of cold chain infrastructure and strengthening the cold chain network can reduce food spoilage and waste, enhance food safety and reduce the incidence of disease.

In 2019, 6% of China's total food production will be lost during storage, transportation and processing. Currently, many products in China are still delivered in foam boxes with ice packs or dry ice, which do not guarantee the required temperature of the food. FAO stresses that an efficient cold chain system can help reduce food losses and waste, improve compliance with food safety standards, minimise the risk of foodborne illness and reduce the growth rate of spoilage microorganisms. Implementing cold chain facilities in developing countries at the same level as in developed countries could also reduce food waste due to food spoilage by more than 200 million tonnes per year.

The cold chain is an effective way to prevent food spoilage and ensure food quality. The new crown epidemic is driving a shift in consumer preference for cold-chain food, which could spur further growth in the industry in the future.

Urbanisation leading to increased distances between production centres and consumers, growing demand for perishable, high-quality fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products, and the rapid rise of supermarkets are among the many factors underlining the importance of establishing a strong cold chain network in developing countries. total food cold chain demand in China reached 233 million tonnes in 2019, an increase of 44.38 million tonnes from 2018, up 23.52%. In addition, the study found that Chinese consumers' demand for cold-chain food is growing rapidly and that food-related companies are increasing their cold-chain utilisation, especially after the New Crown outbreak. A recent survey showed that 43% of respondents have increased their cold chain food purchases, with 57% of these respondents switching to cold chain food for storage due to disruptions in the food supply chain.

Based on the historical experience of cold chain development in developed countries, when the annual per capita income reaches a certain level, the willingness and ability to consume cold chain will be greatly increased. With the increase in per capita disposable income of urban residents in China, the cold chain has started to enter a period of expansion in recent years, but the cold chain infrastructure still needs to be improved.

The development of the cold chain requires unified, complete and mandatory industry standards and technical personnel with professional technical knowledge and practical experience.

China lacks a unified and complete set of industry standards for the cold chain. The current industry standards are a patchwork of over 200 standards for temperature control of agricultural products and food in China. Only seven of the more than 200 industry standards are national mandatory standards, while the rest are decided by enterprises on their own and compliance is low. In contrast, in the USA, the US Food and Drug Administration's Manufacturing Quality Management Code is legally mandatory and covers requirements such as "automatic controls for temperature regulation". The mandatory requirements will expand the range of applications for temperature control and cold storage.

The lack of uniformity and uneven coverage of industry standards also affects the quality and safety of food products. Chinese industry standards do not cover the entire food supply chain, with transport currently being the focus of attention and distribution being a relatively neglected stage. Even at the transport stage, standards are neglected, for example by focusing on the temperature at the beginning and end of transport, rather than the actual temperature during transport. This loophole could be addressed by concentrating on forced cooling throughout the transport process. Industry members stressed that collaboration across the supply chain system is particularly important to ensure a complete cold chain system for refrigerators from farm to consumer.

Greater involvement of companies in developing industry standards to improve the regulatory and policy environment is one way to enhance the cold chain network in China.

Specific knowledge and skills are also required for the effective operation of cold chain systems. The experience of developing countries shows that even when cold chain infrastructure is adequate, knowledge and awareness of proper cold chain practices may be lacking. The Global Cold Chain Summit in Dalian highlighted the importance of training and education for Chinese employees involved in the cold chain. Addressing this gap through capacity building, such as training in technical knowledge and practices, can better support the development of the cold chain. Once implemented, continuous training will play a key role in meeting the rapidly changing food supply chain.

In the current climate, it is increasingly important to develop cold chain systems in a holistic manner. Improving the standard of cold chain infrastructure, strengthening the cold chain network(Cold room, refrigerated trucks, showcase...), developing uniform and mandatory industry standards and regulations, and training skilled personnel with specialist technical knowledge and practical experience will effectively reduce food spoilage and waste, reduce the incidence of food-borne illnesses, enhance food safety and contribute to the sustainability of the food supply chain.

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