One of the interesting side effects of rising prosperity around the world has been the change in eating habits in formerly poor countries. In China, for example, people historically relied on cereals, such as rice, for nutrition. Following economic liberalization and increased living standards—Chinese income per capita adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity rose by an astonishing 1,300 percent between 1978 and 2015—consumption of cereals decreased. Conversely, consumption of animal products skyrocketed.
Consumption of fish and seafood, specifically, has been rising meteorically since the early 1980s. Today, a typical Chinese consumes more seafood than a typical American. And that, of course, has led to many an article about the imminent depletion of global fish stocks and subsequent environmental catastrophe.
But people who worry about the new and more expensive eating habits of people in formerly poor countries need not worry too much. Human ingenuity and free markets have a way of satisfying demand in affordable and environmentally sustainable ways. Consider aquaculture. According to a recent Bloomberg story, scientists in Australia "are attempting to unlock the genome of the Black Tiger prawn to make a super invertebrate that will grow faster, fight disease more effectively and taste better than its free-roaming brethren… The prawns will grow on a 10,000 hectare… slice of the Legune cattle ranch, near the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia."
If successful, "The first offspring from the project could be ready for sale at the end of 2018, and the site is targeting full output of 162,000 tons of prawns a year. That's more than four times Australia's current annual prawn consumption. "According to Chris Mitchell, director of the Seafarms Group, which plans to spend $1.5 billion building what will be the largest shrimp farm in the developed world, "the goal is to breed such hardy and tasty prawns that the project will never have to catch wild ones again." Somewhere out there Julian Simon and Norman Borlaug must be smiling.
This first appeared in Reason.
Marian L. Tupy is a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute and editor of HumanProgress.org.