Estimates from state-affiliated researchers say that anywhere between 8% and 20% of China’s arable land, some 25 to 60 million acres, may now be contaminated with heavy metals. A loss of even 5% could be disastrous, taking China below the “red line” of 296 million acres of arable land that are currently needed, according to the government, to feed the country’s 1.35 billion people.
Mr. Zhuang [Guotai, head of the Ecological Department at the Environment Ministry], of the environment ministry, said at his recent news conference that only 35% of the fertilizer used in China was being properly absorbed by crops. The remaining 65%, he said, was being discharged as pollution that was seriously tainting China’s farmland. Runoff of nitrogen fertilizer, among the most widely-used varieties in China, can contaminate water sources and lead to soil acidification, soil erosion and lower crop yields.
China has long sought to industrialize its countryside, dating to Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward beginning in 1958, when he sought rapid industrialization by urging peasants to set up backyard steel furnaces at the expense of agricultural output. The cumulative impact of decades of building up rural industry is now taking an environmental toll, particularly as industrial growth surges forward in China’s breadbasket.
Because some things are more important than others, and Government Knows Better what those things are:
effort to keep urbanites comfortable and well-fed has also led to the poisoning of parts of the food chain, and some of the pollution is traveling back to the cities in a different—and for many, more frightening—guise.
Cadmium, arsenic, lead, chemical waste from chemical factories, and waste runoff from excessive use of chemical fertilizers—these are all now in the PRC’s food chain, from the soil up.
Unfortunately, the old are much more vulnerable to the privation of inadequate food supply than are the younger and healthier. The coming starvation from this food debacle might alleviate the coming demographic implosion of the PRC’s aging population, but it’s the wrong way for demographics to be adjusted, even where that’s not the intent. At least as bad, the children and babies also are extremely vulnerable to the ravages of privation. Their coming starvation will leave little or no capacity in the population for recovery on the far side of the disaster.
This is an inevitable outcome, if not in detail, of a Know Better government that dictates rather than protects individual capacities.