China recently admitted that rampant soil pollution is a significant threat to the global food supply.
In the final days of 2013, Chinese officials made an alarming announcement: in addition to the country’s terrifying levels of air and water pollution, soil pollution has now become a threat to public safety.
During a news conference, Wang Shiyuan, a deputy minister of the Ministry of Land and Resources, admitted that poor oversight of heavy metals and other chemicals has contaminated more than 8 million acres of China’s farmland, rendering it practically useless. Some scientists have placed the estimated total as high as 60 million acres, though levels of soil pollution may be less severe in some areas.
Last year, China’s air pollution problem became national knowledge. Smog levels that blocked out the sun, forcing many Chinese citizens to stay indoors or wear breathing masks, made national headlines. The country has been notoriously lax with its environmental regulations, willing to sacrifice public safety for industrial production. But this news that significant portions of its farmland could be unsafe for cultivation may force tighter rules.
According to the Huffington Post, widespread soil pollution is the result of overuse of farm chemicals and the government’s willingness to establish farms close to chemical plants, mines and other heavy industries. Unfortunately, “cleaning up rural regions could be an even bigger challenge as the government tries to reverse damage done by years of urban and industrial encroachment and ensure food supplies for a growing population,” reported Reuters.
Although Wang admitted that farming cannot continue on the 8 million contaminated areas, it’s uncertain what can be done to reclaim this valuable farmland. According to Reuters, Wang “told a news briefing that China was determined to rectify the problem and had committed ‘tens of billions of yuan’ a year to pilot projects aimed at rehabilitating contaminated land and underground water supplies.”
Remediation might be China’s problem, but the consequences of soil contamination are a concern for the entire world. Many global suppliers of food, like Unilever, Nestle source ingredients from Chinese suppliers, due to the low price and high volume.
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