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Chinese farms cause more pollution than factories, says official survey

Groundbreaking government survey pinpoints fertilisers and pesticides as greater source of water contamination

Pollution from toxin in Chinese farmland, Guangzhou, China

Overuse of fertilisers and pesticides has sent agricultural pollution through the roof. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

Farmers’ fields are a bigger source of water contamination in China than factory effluent, the Chinese government revealed today in its first census on pollution.

Senior officials said the disclosure, after a two-year study involving 570,000 people, would require a partial realignment of environmental policy from smoke stacks to chicken coops, cow sheds and fruit orchards.

Despite the sharp upward revision of figures on rural contamination, the government suggested the country’s pollution problem may be close to – or even past – a peak. That claim is likely to prompt scepticism among environmental groups.

 

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The release of the groundbreaking report was reportedly delayed by resistance from the agriculture ministry, which had previously insisted that farms contributed only a tiny fraction of pollution in China.

The census disproves these claims completely. According to the study, agriculture is responsible for 43.7% of the nation’s chemical oxygen demand (the main measure of organic compounds in water), 67% of phosphorus and 57% of nitrogen discharges.

At the launch of the paper, Wang Yangliang of the ministry of agriculture recognised the fall-out from intensive farming methods.

“Fertilisers and pesticides have played an important role in enhancing productivity but in certain areas improper use has had a grave impact on the environment,” he said. “The fast development of livestock breeding and aquaculture has produced a lot of food but they are also major sources of pollution in our lives.”

He said the ministry would introduce measures to improve the efficiency of pesticide and fertiliser use, to expand biogas generation from animal waste, and to change agricultural lifestyles to protect the environment.

While the high figure for rural pollution is partly explained by the immense size of China’s agricultural sector, it also reflects the country’s massive dependency on artificial farm inputs such as fertilisers.

The government says this is necessary because China uses only 7% of the world’s land to feed 22% of the global population. An industrial lobby is pushing for even greater use of chemicals. It includes the huge power company CNOOC, which runs the country’s largest nitrogen fertiliser factory in Hainan’s Dongfang City.

But the returns on this chemical investment are poor. According to a recent Greenpeace report, the country consumes 35% of the world’s nitrogen fertiliser, which wastes energy and other resources, while adding to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agricultural pollution has become one of China’s gravest environmental crises,” said Greenpeace campaign director Sze Pangcheung. “China needs to step up the fight against the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides and promote ecological agriculture which has obvious advantages for human heath, the environment, and sustainable development of agriculture.”

Wen Tiejun, dean of the school of agriculture and rural development at Renmin university, said the survey should be used as a turning point. His research suggested that Chinese farmers used almost twice as much fertiliser as they needed.

“For almost all of China’s 5,000-year history, agriculture had given our country a carbon-absorbing economy but in the past 40 years, agriculture has become one of the top pollution sources,” he said. “Experience shows that we don’t have to rely on chemical farming to resolve the food security issue. The government needs to foster low-pollution agriculture.”

But in what appears to be a statistical sleight of hand, the government said the new agricultural data and other figures from the census would not be used to evaluate the success of its five-year plan to reduce pollution by 10%.

Zhang Lijun, the environmental protection vice-minister, claimed China was cleaning up its pollution problem far faster than other countries during their dirty stage of development.

“Because China follows a different pattern of development, it is very likely that pollution will peak when per capita income reaches US$3,000,” he said, comparing this with the $8,000 he said was the norm in other nations.

If true, it would suggest the worst of China’s pollution problems may already be over. According to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, per capita incomes in China have already passed this point. If exchange rates and a low cost of living are factored in, Chinese incomes may be equivalent to more than $6,000.

But Zhang’s claim is contestable. As countless pollution scandals have revealed, many industries and local governments routinely under-report emissions and waste.

Many harmful or controversial forms of pollution are either not measured – as is the case for carbon dioxide and small particle emissions – or the data is not made public, as is the case for ozone.

Zheng said the government would expand its monitoring system in the next five-year plan.

Extracts from China’s first pollution report (for 2007):

• Sulphur dioxide emissions 23.2 million tonnes (91.3% from industry)

• Nitrogen oxide emissions: 18 million tonnes (30% from vehicles)

• Chemical oxygen demand discharges: 30.3 billion tonnes (44% from agriculture)

• Soot: 11.7 million tonnes.

• Solid waste: 3.8 billion tonnes (of which 45.7m tonnes is hazardous)

• Heavy metal discharges: 900 tonnes

• Livestock faeces: 243 million tonnes.

• Livestock urine: 163 million tonnes

• Plastic film on cropfields: 121,000 tonnes (80.3% recycled)

 

Tilapia raised on shit! Read all about it!

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Rumor: Imported Chinese tilapia are often raised on feces

Chinese Tilapia raised on feces: Do fish farmers in China and Southeast Asia feed their fish, including tilapia, with animal feces?: Thai fishermen catch freshwater white tilapia fish at a fish farm in Samut Prakarn province.

 
Reuters

Thai fishermen catch freshwater white tilapia fish at a fish farm in Samut Prakarn province.

MSN News7/15/13  Curtis Cartier of MSN News
 
Small farms, high demands and lax oversight are inspiring fish farmers in China and Southeast Asia to feed their fish, especially tilapia, with animal feces.

TRUE:In many cases, fish farmed in Asia and imported to the US have been raised on diets of chicken and pig feces

Tilapia is a flat, white fish that comes in nearly a hundred different species, is cheap to raise, easy to cook and recently became the fourth most-commonly consumed fish in the United States, behind shrimp, tuna and salmon. About 82 percent of the United States’ tilapia comes from China, according to USDA documents. But a simple online search of the subject reveals numerous alarming accusations involving Asian fish — particularly tilapia — being raised on diets of animal manure, and thus turning into magnets for food-borne illness. MSN News spoke with a leading food-safety scientist who said that, in fact, Chinese tilapia’s reputation for being unsafe to eat is quite well-deserved.

“While there are some really good aquaculture ponds in Asia, in many of these ponds — or really in most of these ponds — it’s typical to use untreated chicken manure as the primary nutrition,” Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia said. “In some places, like Thailand for example, they will just put the chickens over the pond and they just poop right in the pond.”

Asked to estimate what percentage of Chinese tilapia are raised using animal feces as food, Doyle said “I’d say roughly 50 percent.”

Feeding fish animal feces makes them highly susceptible to bacterial infections likesalmonella and E.coli, Doyle said. Furthermore, he said that the large amount of antibiotics that are given to the fish to ward off infections makes the strains of salmonella and E.coli that the fish do catch extremely hard to eliminate.

“It’s incredible to see how much of these antibiotics are applied, and they leave large residues of antibiotics in the ponds,” Doyle said. “We have multiple antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella coming in with these fish.”

Farmed fish now more common than farmed beef

Last month it was announced that farmed fish had overtaken farmed beef in terms of worldwide production for the first time in recorded history. This watershed moment for human food consumption was made possible by a vast network of fish-farming operations that allow enormous quantities of seafood to be raised in a minimal area and with minimal resources.

According to reports, in China and other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand, intense demand for farmed fish and cutthroat competition among farmers drives many of these farmers to cut corners. Feeding the fish with pig and chicken feces is much cheaper than using standard fish food.

An explosive Bloomberg News story published in October of last year and headlined “Asian Seafood Raised on Pig Feces Approved for U.S. Consumers” revealed in graphic detail fish farms and packing plants in China and Vietnam that are rife with filth and disease, and U.S. inspectors doing what appeared to be a poor job of stopping the tainted fish from entering the food supply. According to the piece, 27 percent of seafood consumed in in the United States comes from China, and yet the FDA only inspects 2.7 percent of the fish that gets imported. Of the fish inspected, the FDA has reportedly rejected 820 Chinese seafood shipments since 2007, including 187 that contained tilapia.

FDA defends inspections

In response to questions from MSN News about imported Asian seafood, the FDA defended its practices in an emailed statement, which reads as follows:

“The FDA’s priority is to ensure that both domestic and imported seafood sold in the United States is safe. The agency uses a multifaceted and risk-informed seafood safety program that relies on various measures of compliance. For imported seafood, these measures include inspecting foreign processing facilities, sampling seafood offered for import into the United States, domestic surveillance sampling of imported products, inspections of seafood importers, evaluations of filers of seafood products, foreign country program assessments, and information shared from our international partners and FDA overseas offices.”

“Seafood processors and aquaculture farmers are required to have controls in place to keep hazards out of seafood. The FDA conducts targeted risk-based testing, taking action when it finds violations.”

Despite the FDA’s assurances, Doyle said he recommends consumers pay attention to the country of origin of their seafood, which grocery stores are required by law to display.

“Personally, I always stick to seafood that’s caught in the Gulf of Mexico,” Doyle said.

UPDATE: Pressed for more details on whether seafood imported from Asia receives, or deserves to receive, more scrutiny than seafood from other regions, FDA spokesperson Theresa Eisenman flatly denied that the widespread practice of feeding feces to farmed fish occurs.

“We are not aware of evidence to support the claim that this practice is occurring in China,” Eisenman wrote to MSN News. “Both domestic and imported seafood products are required to meet the same food safety standards. If FDA had information that an aquaculture product was raised in a manner that would violate FDA’s food safety requirements, that product would not be allowed entry into the United States.”

Eisenman wrote that as far as her agency is concerned, the only food-safety issue specific to Chinese seafood has been the types and levels of antibiotics used on the fish. An official FDA “Import Alert” was issued on June 27, 2013, that names China as having frequently used potentially carcinogenic antibiotics on its fish farms. The alert vows that the agency will stop any shipments of fish that contain antibiotics like malachite greennitrofurans,fluoroquinolones, and gentian violet.

 

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