China Pollution

Tainted meal staple highlights lack of law enforcement

(May 29, 2013) Public pressure for transparency over pollution concerns has compelled authorities in China’s southern province of Guangdong to name the producers of rice tainted with cadmium, reports say.

The Global Times reports excessive levels of cadmium, a heavy metal in elevated levels linked to various cancers and other diseases, was found in eight of 18 batches of rice grown in southern China taken for random quarterly checks. The paper said the problem rice samples were from two college canteens and two other restaurants in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province and one of China’s most populous cities. The Times writes between 0.21 and 0.4 milligrams of cadmium per kilogram were found in the substandard batches, which surpasses the national limit of 0.2 milligrams. Guangzhou’s food and drug authority later named the producers of the rice at issue in response to public demand for the information.

Speaking to the Guangzhou-based Nandu Daily, Chen Xiao’an, a student at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, who wrote to the Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration to push for greater disclosure, said it is absurd that after testing the samples, the authority failed to tell the public the brand names of the affected products.

Chinese activists say the incident highlights a broader transparency problem concerning food and environmental health and safety, reports Radio Free Asia (RFA).

RFA quotes Chinese geology expert Yang Yong who says heavy metals found in water and in soil can be transferred into food.

“Basically, the general public has zero information on this issue … and sometimes such information is regarded as a state secret by the authorities. People should be very concerned about this situation,” Yang said.

Tainted rice is a long-standing problem in China. The Beijing Review notes that rice is more vulnerable to absorbing heavy metals than other crops like corn and wheat and says experts urge more government attention to ensure the safety of rice cultivation. For example, the proper enforcement of the country’s existing laws. Radio Free Asia writes that according to campaigners, “China has an exemplary set of environmental protection legislation, but that close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level.”

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