Guest Post: Pollution Threatens China's Food Security

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Shannon Tiezzi via The Diplomat,

A Reuters report this week noted that nearly 3.33 million hectares (eight million acres) of Chinese farmland are too polluted to grow crops. The article, which was re-posted by the state-run China Daily news site, quoted Wang Shiyuan, China’s vice minister of land and resources. Wang says that the government is determined to address the issue of polluted farmland, and will commit “tens of billions of yuan” each year to help return the land to a usable state.

Food security is a major concern for Chinese leaders, and worries over this issue already had the potential to severely slow down other planned reforms such as urbanization. The announcement on China’s pollution levels further complicates the balance of preserving farmland and speeding up urbanization. Wang Shiyuan noted that the amount of polluted land represents nearly 2 percent of the country’s arable land, which is not something the Chinese government can ignore.  China’s per capita arable land area is already less than half of the world average — the country simply can’t afford to lose any more land to pollution.

China’s government wants to ensure enough arable land is left reserved for farming, and the large swath of polluted fields cuts into that amount. Xinhua reports that China’s arable land survey counted about 135.4 million hectares (334.6 million acres) of farmland — but after removing from that count land reserved for “forest and pasture restoration” as well as land too polluted for crop-growing, the “actual available arable land was just slightly above the government’s red-line” of preserving 120 million hectares (296 million acres) of usable farm land. In other words, pollution is presenting a dangerous threat to one of the government’s highest priorities.

This presents a tough choice for Chinese leaders: let the land lie farrow and risk disrupting food supplies, or allow crops to be grown on tainted soil. Wang’s remarks show the government is leaning towards the former. Tainted crops have already caused scares among China’s citizens. A report by Guangzhou in May found that nearly half the rice in the cities’ restaurants had excessive levels of the heavy metal cadmium. The city’s residents were outraged when the report was published.  The rice in Guangzhou was linked to polluted plots in Hunan province, which produces 11 percent of China’s total rice each year. Caixin published an article arguing that cover-ups by both local and provincial governments allowed the problem to spread before it exploded into the public consciousness in late spring 2013.

In a way, Wang’s public report could actually be good news for environmental advocates.  For one, it shows that the central government is taking the problem seriously, and might be taking steps to increase transparency in the tracking and reporting of soil and water pollution. Even more importantly, food security is a non-negotiable for China’s government and pollution becoming a serious impediment to ensuring a steady supply of crops. Now China’s leaders will be more willing to make the hard choices necessary to clean up the land and water pollution in China’s rural areas. This might mean setting strict new pollution limits for businesses, or even closing down factories that operate close to farmland.

Unfortunately, however, the food security crisis could also negatively impact the environment. Chinadialogue reported back in November that the government was letting reforestation subsidies (money paid to farmers who plant trees on their land) expire over food security concerns. Wang’s remarks seem to promise that some land is being kept in reserve for reforestation and the creation of pasture land. If China’s arable land continues to creep down towards the “red line,” it will be very tempting for the government to reclaim this land for agriculture — which Chinadialogue argues will speed up desertification, putting China at risk in other ways.


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hedgeless_horseman's picture



If China’s arable land continues to creep down towards the “red
line,” it will be very tempting for the government to...

 Plenty of arable land for cereal cultivation right next door in Russia.

Sudden Debt's picture

and Japan doesn't need that much because their population is shrinking and Cambodja en Laos don't use their land because it has all those trees on the land they could use as farmland.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Sure, but the Russians are fellow commies...share and share alike!

Dr. Engali's picture

I'm pretty sure that we are now fellow commies too....or damn close.

Head_Shots_Work's picture

I wish! At least we would finally KNOW what the FK we are! But I'm really thinking we're more of a 'rule by aristocracy' really. 

zaphod's picture

But what are they going to water their crops with, water pollution is the major issue over there and it is much more than 2% of the rivers/water supply that is not safe at this point.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



But what are they going to water their crops with...

Brawndo.  It's got what plants crave.

akak's picture

Pollution: It's got electrolytes!

gmrpeabody's picture

Pollution: It's what's for dinner...

rustymason's picture

If you like your pollution, you can keep your pollution.

akak's picture

And if you don't like your pollution ... you can still keep your pollution.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



No, America is definitely now a fascist nation.  China and Russia are moving toward fascism.


Dr. Engali's picture

True, my point is there is no significant difference between us and them.

pemdas's picture

If I see "Product of China" on a food -- mushrooms, fish, canned fruit, etc., I will not buy it.

bloostar's picture

If I see 'made in USA' etc, I will not believe it.

superflex's picture

I trust my Sig M400 is made in NH, the Magpul furniture is made in CO and the Lake City brass is made in MO.

mkkby's picture

Just raise the polution standard and say it's all okey dokey now.  Forbid reporters to go near the worst spots. Problem solved.

Hope those floating pig carcases didn't go to waste?  Off topic -- WTF is spam anyway?


Ban KKiller's picture

Agreed. China is the only country more corrupt than the USA. But...most of our food is OK...especially what I grow. My chickens are happy and healthy. They have cable tv. 

mobtown's picture

I am a chef that serves over 10,000 meals per week to sick and homeless.  The ordering of product to serve all of these meals is done by a person that is under pressure to keep a low food cost. Almost all of the vegetables, and fruit that I have to use comes from China. When did the United States stop producing apples and broccoli? These products are bought from U.S companies (Sysco, U.S Foods). Check your labels in your grocery stores, a lot of the fruit and vegs you're family is eating has Chinese piss and shit on it. The dead hogs in the river story did it for me.

Head_Shots_Work's picture

That's for sure! Less people than Arkansas (and probably fewer weapons) and a GDP smaller than Kohl's. Ellison or someone could buy this country. It's huge - but resources must be pretty poor. Even Russia didn't want it. 

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

I've read extensively on the idea that the 'Mongols' did not come from what we today term Mongolia.  More likely they came from the areas we would now call Ukraine, south & western Russia, as well as Anatolia/Asia Minor/Turkey.

The weaponry and tactics of the Cossacks and Mongols are amazingly similar.


Hongcha's picture

Darteaus; look also to Burma, VN and Laos to become the PRC rice basket.  Better climate.  Burma is pristine.  Because it was and still is a totalitarian state, it was untouched by progress and is pristine.  A funny irony.

The environmental condition of the land mass of the PRC and what is happening to the health of the people who breathe its air, drink its water and eat its produce, is appalling.  The PRC blockades and lies and many many will go down with cancers and God knows what else.

I have spent enough time over there to tell you, if I have to go back it will be a visit timed to the hour and I will bring with me an armory of supplements sufficient to stop a cold in a full-grown bull elephant.  I will not spend an hour longer than I need to.  It is that toxic.

Wile-E-Coyote's picture

Are you sure that isn't a map of fallout from Fukushima?

Sudden Debt's picture

If the food you eat doesn't give that burning feeling it's not food!!

jubber's picture

suddenly reminded me  of the old Anthony Quinn film  "The Shoes of the Fisherman"

NoDebt's picture

"let the land lie farrow"

Very funny.  I think you mean "fallow."  But put a fake oriental accent on it and, voila!- farrow!.

I'm guessing Shannon doesn't make it out to the sticks very often.  One of them there glass tower agricultural experts.

Freddie's picture

Maybe he means Mia Farrow should take a dirt nap.

China will buy farmland in the USA and take it over in Africa.  My guess is they will try to take land in America eventually.

NotApplicable's picture

Could be turning it into hog farms?

fxrxexexdxoxmx's picture

Politics is intimately about food. Same as it every was.

Head_Shots_Work's picture

Spot on! Google the documentation about the rise in food prices and middle east "Democratic Rebellions" (and you'll see that these mini-revolutions had nothing to do with 'politics' per se - and everything to do with feeding your family).

Sudden Debt's picture


Testudo321's picture

Drang nach Westen!

Or how ever this is said in Chinese language.

Flounder's picture

The pollution is troublesome, but the tainted Donkey Meat at Walmart might also prove worrisome.

The Wisp's picture

they say Fox meat is  More expensive than Donkey.. they are wasting profits...

rosiescenario's picture

Did the donkey come from Tijuana?

If so, they might also wish to test the meat for HIV.....

Charles Wilson's picture

Of course, if the land lies fallow, all that cadmium turns into vitamin C within 10 years!

What's the problem here?

darteaus's picture

Only when countries start getting wealthy do they start to care about the environment.

LetThemEatRand's picture

Only when a few people become wealthy by destroying the environment do the people in those countries start to care about the environment (because before that they didn't have to).

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Tragedy of the Commons, writ large.

Ralph Spoilsport's picture

Cadmium poisoning was known in Japan as the 'it hurts-it hurts' disease. The Cadmium mostly comes from mining operations and it gets into the water supply eventually. Irrigating rice with Cadmium contaminated water eventually stops working as the Cadmium level rises. Nasty stuff.

pashley1411's picture

This would be a good time for the Chinese to use transparency/information for the public to set pollution guidelines.

Sadly, they will instead use command-and-control and information restrictions, to preserve the interests of the status quo.

Much like the US.

NotApplicable's picture

You seem to be missing the fact that the world is run by the mafia.

The idea that they even could do this is far more laughable than the idea that they would.

So, in light of this, why do you insist upon covering up these crimes by playing along with the facade?

Lemme guess...


Osmium's picture

Time to put the Soylent Green on the Wal Mart shelves.

Dr. Engali's picture

Maybe infinite growth on a planet with 7 billion people isn't such a good idea after all.

suteibu's picture

I don't know, Doctor.  Based on this, it seems that the population will self-regulate growth both through the destruction of arable land and the ensuing wars that follow.  No worries for the planet, actually.

"The Planet is Fine.The People are Fucked." - George Carlin

Dr. Engali's picture

I agree with you there. Population reduction in one form or another, or possibly multiple forms, is inevitable. Nature has a way of balancing out the distortions.