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Pesticides on the Rise in China
May 26, 2000
Pesticide production, use and exports are on the rise in China. In addition to being one of the world's largest users, China is now also one of the world's largest pesticide producers. Production jumped from an estimated 230,000 tons in 1995 to 424,000 tons in 1999. While production of insecticides exceeds that of herbicides and fungicides combined, herbicide use is growing quickly. According to Chinese government officials, Chinese herbicide demand is expected to increase to between 67,000 to 86,000 tons in 2000-representing 30 to 40% of total pesticide demand. China exported 147,000 tons of pesticides in 1999, an increase of more than 35% over the previous year. Exports are forecast to rise by 20 to 30% in 2000. Imports were estimated at 48,000 tons in 1999.
Chlordane and heptachlor were listed among those chemicals targeted for elimination by China's State Economic and Trade Commission in April 1999. However, the government announcement did not make clear whether China will ban these pesticides or simply consolidate their production.
According to Chinese agricultural experts, pesticide use is relatively high in China's wealthy, developed areas on the southeast coast, while poor areas, such as the Northwest, Sichuan, and Guizhou, use the least. Farmers in grain growing areas in the North China plain who have been using pesticides for many years are increasing their applications in response to development of pesticide resistance. Crops receiving the highest pesticide applications are fruit, cotton, corn and wheat. Pesticide use is highest in greenhouses, where the chemicals are applied at up to ten times the rate of application in fields. In the field, it is not uncommon for farmers to double the recommended dose of pesticides.
A potentially huge pesticide market has attracted many foreign agrochemical companies to China, including AgrEvo, DuPont, Mitsubishi, Monsanto, Novartis, Reilly Chemical, Rhone-Poulenc, Rohm and Hass Chemical, Rotam and Zeneca. They have moved in quickly to take advantage of a relatively cheap and unregulated location for production.
Some key joint ventures include:
o Nantong Acetic Acid Chemical Factory and Reilly Chemicals formed Nantong Reilly Chemicals in 1998 to produce pyridine, a pesticide intermediate to supply Zeneca's paraquat plant in Nantong.
o Nantong Chemical and Rohm and Hass Chemical Company will produce dithane for sale in China.
o Monsanto formed a joint venture with Hebei Provincial Seed Industry Group to produce genetically engineered Bollgard cotton, which contains the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Growth of the agrochemical industry in China has been accompanied by problems related to quality control, unsafe application of chemicals, and pesticide residues. Many products are sold under the wrong name, and in some cases, banned pesticides such as DDT are sold under the name of legal pesticides. The press has covered several cases where farmers were poisoned using mislabeled products. Farmers also face the problem that the chemicals sold as pesticides may not be pesticides at all. In addition, they rarely receive training to use new products that come on the market.
According to a report from the Chinese National Statistics Bureau, 48,377 pesticide poisoning cases, including 3,204 fatalities, were reported in 27 provinces in 1995. Another government estimate placed total farmworker fatalities due to pesticides at 7,000-10,000 annually.
Pesticide residues in food greatly exceed Chinese government standards, which do not cover the full range of pesticides on the market. The government's capacity to test food for pesticide residues is insufficient due to technical and financial constraints. Nevertheless, Chinese consumers are aware of the problem, and their demand for safer food has created a market for food marketed as organic, Green Food, and "wu gong hai" (not harmful). Organic is the only designation with rigorous certification standards.
PAN North America's Work in China
The recent increase in pesticide production and use, coupled with a lack of quality control and pesticide poisonings and residues, is cause for serious concern. Fortunately, the Chinese agricultural extension system has partnered with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Programme to train farmers to eliminate their use of broad spectrum insecticides and cultivate natural enemies of pests in their rice fields. PANNA is working with these organizations and other local partners in China to research the potential for expanding IPM activities into areas served by World Bank supported development projects. This work is part of a larger PANNA program that monitors impacts of World Bank financed projects in Asia, especially regarding pesticide use and pest management.
Sources: Agrow: World Crop Protection News articles 1996-2000; interviews conducted by Jessica Hamburger, Project Coordinator, PANNA, in China during October 1999; "Pesticides in China, Global Pesticide Campaigner, Vol. 4, No. 1, March 1994; "China to Phase Out Petrochemical Projects," Asia Pulse, Beijing, April 12, 1999; "Agricultural Pesticide Use in China," U.S. Embassy Beijing, Environment, Science, and Technology Section, June 1996.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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