Imported Meat, Vietnam and the ethical consumer

One of the downsides about living in Asia is that the avenues for a more sustainable lifestyle in some aspects is pretty limited. Take for example, in Vietnam which has a huge expat community and a growing middle class. Both of these means that the demand for meat is on the rise. Locally grown sources of meat are often slaughtered in unhygienic conditions which automatically means that expats especially look elsewhere for their sources of meat.

In Saigon, there is one gourmet store and one Australian butcher and they both supply good quality meat that both locals and expats frequent. However if you want to live a green life and still eat meat in Vietnam, it is near impossible.  The average annual meat consumption in Vietnam is about 40kg per capita and is projected to increase to 57kg per capita by 2020. Pork accounts for the majority of meat consumed (76%) followed by poultry meat (13%) and red meat (9%). Pork imports accounted for over 9,000 MT in 2009, with a value of over USD $10 million.

Importing pork is also cheaper. Wholesale frozen pork imports are 50% cheaper than domestic prices. These low import prices explain why pork imports have a substantial market in Vietnam. Previously, domestic food processors made products from domestic pork, but now they are using imported meat to reduce production costs.

Imported meat, comes with a high ecological footprint. Imported anything comes with a higher carbon footprint, as proved by a study in Cranfield University that shows that switching from British-bred beef to meat substitutes imported from abroad such as tofu would increase the amount of land cultivated, raising the risk of forests being destroyed. However in the UK, unlike in Vietnam it is easier getting locally cultivated, organic meat.

An ethical consumer is really left with little choice in Vietnam other than to switch to a more vegetarian diet or choose seafood. Both options are available in plenty and neither left me complaining. However, some of the people that I spoke to in Vietnam did mention that they would be happy to eat locally raised meat if the butchering process became more hygienic. Not really sure what the food authorities in Vietnam think about this.

Exporters of meat however, think that is it a good thing that Vietnam has a huge demand for imported meat. Many suppliers in Australia and the US are gearing up to increase their export of pork, beef and lamb to Vietnam. Soon there will be no shortage of hygienically grown and slaughtered meat, but the environmental and carbon footprint will sky-rocket if local production of meat products are not streamlined.