China Wastes Half as Much Grain as It Imports

China has imported almost as much grain in the first 10 months of this year as it did for all of 2013, according to new government data, putting the world’s most populous country on track for record-setting grain imports in 2014.

From January to October, China imported 72.5 million tons of grain, including soybeans, barley, and sorghum. Shipments of U.S. corn, on the other hand, fell dramatically over the last year as China enforced a tougher ban on genetically modified objects.

Falling prices worldwide have triggered China’s rising purchases of grain, Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultants, recently told the independent financial magazine Caixin. Ma said the cost to import grain had dropped 30 percent in the past two years.

Yet China each year wastes roughly half the volume of grain it imports. Last month the country’s State Administration of Grain released data showing that about 35 million metric tons of grain is discarded each year because of faulty storage, transportation, and processing systems. Chen Yuzhong, an official at the administration, told China Daily, “The losses can feed 200 million people for a year, which is shameful.”

Large quantities of fruit, vegetables, and meat also go bad because of poor food storage. While almost three-quarters of all food consumed in the U.S. is refrigerated from the time it leaves the farm or slaughterhouse until it arrives on grocery store shelves, China has a much less developed system for transporting food safely. Only about a quarter of meat is refrigerated while transported. If you’ve lived in China, you’ve probably seen restaurant workers unloading meat from bicycles or trucks in simple plastic shopping bags.

Now Chen and others within the government are calling for tighter food regulations. The country, he said, “needs urgent measures to prevent such waste and loss.”

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