China Says Land the Size of Belgium Too Polluted for Farming

More than 2 percent of China’s arable land, or an area the size of Belgium, is too polluted to grow crops, the government said, offering new evidence of the environmental cost associated with 30 years of breakneck growth.

About 50 million mu (3.3 million hectares) of farmland is too spoiled for planting, Vice Minister of Land and Resources Wang Shiyuan said at a press conference in Beijing yesterday, according to a transcript on the government’s website. The country has 135 million hectares of arable land, he said, citing a nationwide survey.

Concerns that toxic soil is spoiling crops and making people sick join those about China’s polluted skies and water as issues that have highlighted the cost of economic expansion, which has averaged about 10 percent annually over three decades. Leaders including Xu Shaoshi, head of the country’s top economic planning agency, have said environmental degradation is challenging China’s traditional growth pattern.

Wang’s comments were made at a briefing on the results of China’s latest land survey. In February, Wang’s ministry said a five-year, $1 billion soil pollution survey started in 2006 would not be released because it was considered a “state secret,” signaling concerns that negative information from the study could cause social instability.

In May, Guangdong province, the nation’s most-populous region, said it found excessive levels of toxic cadmium in more than 40 percent of rice sold in capital city Guangzhou.

Metal Contamination

The government will spend “tens of billions of yuan” each year to repair land with heavy metal contamination and to restore over-exploited ground aquifers, Wang said at yesterday’s briefing. About 28,000 rivers have vanished since 1990, according to the Ministry of Water Resources and National Bureau of Statistics.

In Beijing, the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution -- the particles considered most harmful to human health -- is the burning of fossil fuel, according to a posting on the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ official microblog. Coal-burning accounts for 18 percent of Beijing’s PM2.5 pollution, according to the microblog.

Farming on the land with medium-to-heavy pollution should be discontinued, Wang said. The main areas with farmland pollution are the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, northeast China and Hunan province, he said.

China conducted its first-ever land survey in the 10 years that ended 1996, Wang said. The second began in July 2007 and took three years to complete, Wang said at the briefing yesterday, at which he discussed the newly released results of that survey.

— With assistance by William Bi

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