China’s livestock industry has experienced a vast transition during the last three decades, with profound effects on domestic and global food provision, resource use, nitrogen and phosphorus losses, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We provide a comprehensive analysis of the driving forces around this transition and its national and global consequences. The number of livestock units (LUs) tripled in China in less than 30 years, mainly through the growth of landless industrial livestock production systems and the increase in monogastric livestock (from 62 to 74% of total LUs). Changes were fueled through increases in demand as well as, supply of new breeds, new technology, and government support. Production of animal source protein increased 4.9 times, nitrogen use efficiency at herd level tripled, and average feed use and GHG emissions per gram protein produced decreased by a factor of 2 between 1980 and 2010. In the same period, animal feed imports have increased 49 times, total ammonia and GHG emissions to the atmosphere doubled, and nitrogen losses to watercourses tripled. As a consequence, China’s livestock transition has significant global impact. Forecasts for 2050, using the Shared Socio-economic Pathways scenarios, indicate major further changes in livestock production and impacts. On the basis of these possible trajectories, we suggest an alternative transition, which should be implemented by government, processing industries, consumers, and retailers. This new transition is targeted to increase production efficiency and environmental performance at system level, with coupling of crop-livestock production, whole chain manure management, and spatial planning as major components.