Jul 8, 2014

In China’s Heartland, A Toxic Trail Leads from Factories to Fields to Food by He Guangwei: Yale Environment 360

BY HE GUANGWEI: Long known as China's granary, Hunan Province has been a major rice producer for the nation's growing and increasingly urban population. But toxic pollution from Hunan's mines and heavy metal plants has contaminated large tracts of its once-fertile farmland and put China's staple food supply at risk.
The second in a series.

Cao Fushe spent much of last year worrying whether he would earn enough money to support his family. Cao is in his early fifties and works a three-acre family rice farm in the village of Zhujiaqiao, in You County, part of the municipality of Zhuzhou in Mao Zedong's native province of Hunan in central China. His income has been hit by something he had never previously heard of – cadmium pollution. 

Rice growing is a backbreaking but increasingly unprofitable occupation in China. Twelve years ago, Cao, like many small farmers, was obliged to supplement his income by working on construction sites in Guangzhou, the capital of neighbouring Guangdong Province. Then it occurred to him that he could make more money by changing professions. He quit his job and returned home to You County to set up as a rice trader. As a trader, he works on behalf of

Tainted Harvest: 
An e360 Special Report

This article is the second in a three-part series on soil pollution in China. The first article examined the overall problem and the impact on public health in China. This series is a joint project between Yale Environment 360 and Chinadialogue, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

state-owned companies within the government-controlled procurement system, buying rice for the national grain reserves at around the government guide price. 

With two lorries and eight employees, business was good: In 2012 the country enjoyed a good harvest, and Cao enjoyed his best year. He bought 4,000 tons of grain that year, which made him the biggest trader in his hometown. But on May 16, 2013, food safety officials in Guangzhou announced that of 18 samples of rice and rice products from Hunan Province, eight were heavily contaminated with cadmium, a silent heavy-metal killer that accumulates in the body and attacks the kidneys and other organs. Of the eight most contaminated samples, five had come from three rice mills in You county, where Cao's village is. Similar levels of the metal had been found in rice in February 2013, but it was the second discovery of widespread contamination that was to cement the reputation of Hunan's rice as dangerous. Prices began to fall. 

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