Contaminated Farmland

Today there were many articles like this one from NPR: China Admits That One-Fifth Of Its Farmland Is Contaminated. The details of the report by the Chinese government are stunning.

The report, issued by the ministries of Environmental Protection and Land and Resources, says 16.1 percent of the country’s soil in general and 19.4 percent of its farmland is polluted with toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and arsenic. It was based on a soil survey of more than 2.4 million square miles of land across China, spanning a period from April 2005 until December 2013. It excluded special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
In a dire assessment, the report declares: “The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism.”

Earlier this year we saw images of large portions of China smothered with heavy smog as in this article by Scientific American.


When reading reports regarding pollution or global warming, some often comment that the report is being alarmist and imply that we should disregard the report. This report by the Chinese government is more than alarming, it is calamitous. But will things change tomorrow? Will the industries and coal power generators that are causing the Chinese farmland to become toxic stop polluting tomorrow? And so ever increasing amounts of Chinese farmland will become toxic.

So what does that have to do with me living many thousands of miles away from China? For one, the air pollution in China doesn’t stay there. For one, according to The Smithsonian, some of that air pollution is reaching the west coast of the US where I live. Two, the US imports some four billion dollars of food products from China every year. Here are some numbers from the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, these are a listing of food products whose imports from China exceeded $350 million in 2011:

Agricultural Product US Dollar Value Imported from China in 2011
Fish $2,646,757,166
Fish Fresh Or Prep $1,817,861,314
Shellfish $804,745,740
Vegetables & Preps $626,224,026
Fruit Juices $547,044,940
Grains & Feeds $527,784,428
Fruits & Preps $518,397,511
Apple Juice $504,059,866
Fruits – Prep Or Pres $499,317,088
Other Fruits – Prep Or Pres $478,258,430
Animals & Prods $449,291,071
Vegetables-Prep/Pres $382,588,727
Feeds & Fodders, Ex Oilcake $372,015,556

The US imports a huge amount of agricultural products from China, and if nearly twenty percent of the farmland in China is contaminated, what percentage of the agricultural products imported from China are also contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins?

Enjoying a beautiful day here at a man and his hoe® it’s easy to think this is a problem that doesn’t affect me, but it affects all of us, not matter how far, far away.

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