China’s challenges are the World’s challenges

Zhengzhou smog and street vendors_100WEBEarlier this year, several reports noted that China was “cracking down” on food waste – an effort backed by President Xi Jinping and encouraged by a “Clean Your Plate” movement.  One report by Alex Blake (see link at bottom)  noted that as much as 70% of the country’s waste is comprised of food, much of which ends up in landfills.  Those leading the movement clearly recognize the twofold impact of such massive waste — the loss of valuable food along with the resources that went into producing it, and the environmental externalities (air pollution, water pollution, etc.) resulting from discarding food in landfills.  Fast forward a few months.  In late July, Chin and Spegele wrote a compelling piece (“China’s Bad Earth”) in the Wall Street Journal noting the serious environmental impact of massive industrialization on farms and food production in rural areas.  The article noted the impact of chemical discharges from factories into water sources, leading to stunted crops and cadmium-laced rice supplies, as well as overuse of chemical fertilizers (with up to 65% discharged as pollution).   A few months later, Wayne Ma wrote a piece for the WSJ on 10/23 entitled “Pollution Forces North China to a Standstill” —  noting that heavy air pollution reduced visibility to less than 20 meters and shut down roads, schools, and a major airport.  Ma noted that in Harbin, “health threatening particulates” exceeded 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, while the World Health Organization recommends exposure of less than 25 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours (see Ma’s article here, the associated picture clearly shows the gravity of the situation: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB20001424052702304402104579151150296974992 )

Ma quotes one individual as saying “We need our government to start doing something proactive.  Our requirements aren’t high, we just want clean food, clean water, and clean air.”  This statement encapsulates the key challenges faced by China which have gained increased attention throughout the year; and they all relate to the food system.  Clearly China must undergo massive change to feed its 1.3 billion people (about one-fifth of the world population) safely and sustainably, without extensive pollution and with increased transparency.  And while it’s a difficult balancing act, China is not alone in this challenge — and it should not be viewed as an isolated case.  The world has a vested interest in China’s success in feeding its people safely and sustainably.  The country’s struggles with food waste, water pollution, and air pollution are getting much coverage; they also reflect a pressing need for global partnerships to provide long-term solutions – solutions which can be applied in other countries as well in the effort to feed 9 billion global citizens by 2050.  Crisis equals opportunity — it’s a critical time for global collaboration on the food system.

(Note: A link to Blake’s article is here): ( http://www.resource.uk.com/article/News/China_cracks_down_food_waste-2783#.UnKUSNPD_IV )

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