China Environmental News Digest

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chinese Public Concerned About Food Safety, Environmental Quality

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Chinese bodies have been put at risk for decades. Twenty years ago, people were afraid to speak out against the government. But today, they are expressing growing concern about the contamination of their food, water, and air.

A recent survey shows that four out of ten Chinese have eaten unsafe food, while eight in ten are worried about food safety. Heavy pollution of soil and water, much of it damaged by extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides, has led to a situation of rising food insecurity.

A week ago, a cell phone message circulated among Beijing citizens claiming that the pork sold in local markets contained a deadly virus. Residents spread the warning quickly to their friends and discouraged them from buying the meat. As a result, business at Beijing’s pork markets nearly froze in the capital’s chilly winter, with sales plummeting as much as two-thirds. Although the government refuted the rumor, suspicions remain.

This is not the first such scare in Beijing. Several months ago, news came out that the city’s markets were selling “poisonous” rice (moldy rice that can be harmful to health), causing panic among residents.

According to Pan Yue, vice president of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), some 150 million mu (10 million hectares) of land nationwide is contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. And across China, villages have piled an estimated 150 million tons of garbage in the open air, posing risks to residents, wildlife, and the local environment.

A new survey released January 15 reflects the rising public concern about food safety and the environment. In it, 86 percent of respondents agree that environmental pollution has had a significant impact on modern life, while 39 percent think the worsening environment has had big effects on themselves and their families. The survey, titled The Chinese Public’s Awareness of Environmental Protection and Livelihood Index 2006 , was conducted by the China Environmental Culture Exchange Association and led by SEPA’s Pan, who calls it a “weathervane” of public awareness of environmental protection.

The survey also reports that four out of five Chinese are concerned about drinking water quality, and 34 percent have encountered water contamination problems. Four in ten Chinese have experienced air pollution problems, and 70 percent are not satisfied with the current air quality. Respondents report suffering daily from the increased health burden caused by “dirty” air and noise pollution.

Pan notes that China faces a deteriorating environmental situation, with about 400 million citizens under threat from serious air pollution, and 15 million burdened with respiratory disease as a result. According to cancer experts, 70 percent of the 2 million deaths from cancer each year in China are linked to environmental pollution.

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