An official from the Chinese government announced Monday that approximately 3.33 million hectares, or 8 million acres, of China’s farmland is now too polluted to grow crops, according to a Reuters report from Beijing.
China’s Vice Minister of Land and Resources Wang Shiyuan reportedly told a news conference that current farming on the now-too-contaminated land — roughly the size of Belgium — will be halted and rehabilitated in order to ensure food safety. It was unclear late Monday whether food that had already been grown on that land would be sought out or recalled.
“These areas cannot continue farming,” Wang said, noting that the Ministry of Environmental Protection had deemed all of the 8 million acres as having “moderate to severe pollution.”
The Chinese government has said that the country needs at least 120 million hectares of arable land to ensure it is able to meet the vastly populated country’s food needs. Though China started 2013 with a strong 135 million hectares of arable land, contamination — paired with recent efforts to convert farmland to forests, grasslands and wetlands — has caused the amount of stable cultivated land to drop to 120 million hectares, Wang said. Wang also said the country is committed to spending “tens of billions of yuan” a year for projects aimed at rehabilitating polluted land.
High levels of contamination caused by pollution are nothing new for the people of China, who have been caught in somewhat of a pollution storm in the last year. A major source of the country’s pollution is its 2,300 (and growing) dirty coal plants, which helped Beijing in January experience its worst air pollution on record — levels of particulate matter topped out at 723 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers 25 or less micrograms per cubic meter ideal for human health. Above 300 is considered hazardous.
In October, air pollution nearly shut down the entire city of Harbin, and in December, extreme air pollution forced children and the elderly in Shanghai behind closed doors and windows for at least seven days. Later that month, a clinic dedicated to treating victims of China’s notorious smog opened its doors in Sichuan Provence, southwest China.