China wakes up to check deadly pollution in farmlands

14 May, 2007: China has decided to check pollution that severely poisons cultivated land and being absorbed by fish, in an effort to win back the trust of national and overseas consumers.

Inadequate health and safety inspections in China have led to frequent cases of serious, sometimes fatal, toxic poisoning.

In Shanghai, mobile testing units will be put in place to test food within 30 minutes.

The announcement was made in Beijing on May 11, 2007.

Li Jie, deputy director of the Shanghai Food and Drug Supervision Institute, says the mobile units can tell the safety of most food products within 30 minutes. Tests will be carried out on the spot on meat and vegetables in markets. However, the testing facility will be operational only by the end of 2007.

Beijing has also ordered blanket testing on foods like wheat gluten and rice protein, ingredients which were discovered by the United States to contain melamine. China has now banned the export of melamine and other additives.

The pollution of farmland in China is on an enormous scale. In April 2007, China’s Ministry of Land and Resources admitted that more than one-tenth of farming land was poisoned by pollution. Each year, approximately 12 million tonnes of grain was contaminated by heavy metals and had to be destroyed – with losses of over 20 billion yuan ($2.54 billion).

According to Xinhua, the state news agency, about 25 million acres of farmland was contaminated, another 5 million acres were watered by contaminated water, and about 330,000 acres were covered with solid waste. The excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers and injections to increase the weight of meat make things worse.

For years, Hong Kong has imposed strict checks and bans on food imports from China.

Rivers and lakes in China are among the most polluted in the world. In 2007, the states of Mississippi and Alabama in the United States banned the Chinese catfish because it was found to contain antibiotics prohibited in the US.

In October 1996, Taiwan banned the importation of hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake in eastern Jiangsu because they contained nitrofuran, a toxic and carcinogenic substance. In August 2005, Hong Kong found green malachite, a substance that could cause cancer, in Chinese fresh-water fish and eels.

Health and safety monitoring is seriously lacking in China. There have been reports of car oil being used instead of cooking oil and liquor made with alcohol for industrial use (causing 9 deaths in 2004).

In August 2006, around 40 people got meningitis after eating raw or undercooked snails in a chain of restaurants in Sichuan. In July 2005, in Sichuan, around 40 people died of an infection of streptococcus suis, contracted from infected pigs that they had killed, handled or eaten.




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