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Stop pigging out, save the planet, Chinese told ahead of new year joy

The message is a hard-sell because eating meat is a sign of wealth among the Chinese

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China consumes more meat than any other country and accounts for half the world's consumption of pork, which goes into everything - dumplings, stir-fries and hotpots.

Kuala Lumpur

AS Chinese people celebrate the new Year of the Pig this week, environmental campaigners are urging them to eat less pork and help save the planet.

China consumes more meat than any other country and accounts for half the world's consumption of pork, which is used in everything from dumplings and stir-fries to hotpots.

That has made it the world's biggest emitter of climate-warming greenhouse gases, says the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Livestock are responsible for about 14.5 per cent of global emissions.

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Jen Leung, China climate director at the US-based charity WildAid, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "Chinese emissions can be reduced by almost 10 per cent in the next decade if Chinese people just ate half as much meat. So just try eating a little less pork in honour of a healthy Year of the Pig."

Twelve animals make up the traditional Chinese zodiac and this week marks the transition from Year of the Dog to Year of the Pig.

The week-long holiday starts on Monday, the eve of the new year, and is the most important in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home.

Many restaurants have special menus to mark the festival, which is celebrated by Chinese communities around the world.

In Hong Kong, famous for its dim sum and barbeque pork, one company is partnering with restaurants to promote Chinese New Year dishes cooked with its "vegan pork" made with ingredients including soybeans and peas.

Alvin Lee, marketing manager at Green Monday, a social enterprise that promotes sustainable living, said: "Traditional belief dictates that we should not eat the same animal during their year, in order to bring good luck - so in the pig year, don't eat pork."

Referring to a recent outbreak of deadly African swine fever on pig farms in China, he added: "But more importantly, it's to address the issue of food safety and to mitigate climate change."

On Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, animal rights group Peta has launched a campaign to honour the "playful" animal with the hashtag #PigYearDontEatThem.

Peta Asia campaigner Jason Baker said: "Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world's transportation systems combined."

Three years ago, China issued dietary guidelines recommending that meat consumption be halved - a move lauded by environmentalists as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to boost public health.

Experts said people were unlikely to give up their pork dumplings any time soon in China, where meat is still associated with wealth and status.

"It's quite challenging because culturally, there are quite a lot of values attached to being able to eat meat," Beau Damen, an expert on climate change at the FAO in Bangkok, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"But one thing consumers do have to keep in mind is that choices about what we eat do have a direct impact on the environment," he said. REUTERS