Academic puts China’s economic cost of ignoring food safety at $750m

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Pollution

A leading academic has put a cash value on the economic costs China will face this year through food-safety issues in agriculture.

He warned that the effects of pollution, chemicals, antibiotics, poor supply chains and bad governance on the economy would work out at RMB5bn (US$750m) in losses by the end of 2016, while it would also drive some 10,000 food sector workers out of work.

Li Chunhua, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also revealed that China has at least 1m hectares of polluted soil, and that some 80% of China’s agricultural chemicals directly enter the food chain and threaten the safety of edible produce.

China uses far more fertiliser than any other country—its 35% share of global supply is equivalent to America and India combined. By using an average of 22kg of fertiliser per acre of farmland, compared to the global average of 8kg, the country faces a “serious situation of over-usage​,” Li said.

Water pollution is another cause for concern, he added, after the institute found that over 61% of water-quality monitoring stations detected poor-quality water.

According to the Ministry of Health, the excessive use of antibiotics in livestock also poses a critical threat to food safety. The approximately 210,000 tonnes of antibiotics produced last year in China (excluding the 30,000 tonnes that were exported) accounted for per-capita consumption that is more than 10-times higher than in America.

Overuse of antibiotics causes various mental illnesses and defects, illustrated by how doctors blame the disabilities of one third of China’s handicapped on antibiotics use in agriculture.

Speaking at an industry event in Beijing, Li also highlighted the menace of gutter oil, which is used oil recovered from gutters and sewers before being reprocessed and sold back to restaurants. 

He said that high profits and a slim chance of being caught has led those selling gutter oil to “completely abandon any bottom-line for human integrity​”. 

Every year, 2-3m tonnes of gutter oil make their way back to restaurants each year, Li added.

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