China finally looking to act on cadmium rice scandal

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pollution, Yangtze river, China

China finally looking to act on cadmium rice scandal
China's Ministry of Land and Resources has announced plans to conduct a survey across the country to assess pollution levels as a means to ascertain the reasons behind excessive cadmium content in rice detected in some regions early this year.

According to the state news agency, Xinhua, the ministry’s previous investigations have shown that some regions are now heavily polluted, particularly those near to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, forcing it to call for stringent action against such environmental pollution. The ministry, however, has not announced a date for the completion of the survey or the release of the data.

Rising levels

The most recent survey results indicate that soil pollution is spreading to China’s more densely populated eastern areas – far above levels from a1994-1995 study, the ministry said.

The soil survey comes in the wake of growing demands from rice producers and millers in Hunan province to find the real cause of excessive cadmium in rice ahead of the new harvest season.

They say that rice sales have plunged to almost half of what they were before the excessive cadmium that had been found in rice in Guangzhou, in Southern China, had been traced to Hunan province. Following the reports, some rice mills have been closed down and some rice products from the region recalled.

Government officials in the city of Guangzhou found that eight out of 18 samples of rice (which originated in Hunan province) had high cadmium levels. Although recent government reports downgrade the severity of the contamination, uncertainly remains​,” Xinhua columnist Shenggen Fen explained.

Drive up demand

Hunan province contributes between 11-15% of China’s annual rice production of around 145m tonnes. If soil tests confirm that excessive cadmium in rice from the region is due to soil and water contamination, the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on rice in the province could be adversely affected.

The loss of trust among consumers could significantly drive up demand for rice imports. Given China's large appetite for rice, a shift in demand from domestic- to foreign-produced rice could have a significant impact on the international rice market​,” added Fen.

Last month, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) refused to release data related to soil pollution in the country saying that the data is a state secret.

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