PANNA: Pesticide Residues a Major Threat to China’s Ag Exports


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Pesticide Residues a Major Threat to China’s Ag Exports
January 17, 2003

As producer of one third of the world’s vegetable exports, China was expected to vastly expand its markets once it entered the World Trade Organization in December 2001. However, the exceedingly high levels of pesticide residues in Chinese food products may pose significant problems for international sales, especially in Europe, Japan and the U.S., where food safety standards are more stringent and more strictly enforced. For example, in 2001, new European Union (EU) regulations reduced pesticide tolerances for tea by 100 times, effectively excluding half of China’s tea exports to the EU. This rejection caused more than $125 million in losses to farmers in Zhejiang Province.

Several reports in the past year illustrate the magnitude of pesticide residues in vegetables grown in China:

  • Experts in Yunnan province found that residues of two highly toxic pesticides–banned by the government for use in vegetable production–were present in 34% to 100% of vegetable samples taken in Kunming and Baoshan prefectures from 1994 to 200l.
  • In 2001, the Chinese government found 47% of domestically produced vegetables had pesticide residues in excess of government standards.
  • The Japanese Ministry of Health found pesticide residues in some vegetables imported from China that were four times higher than the agreed-upon limits.

Pesticide production in China is also on the rise. In 2001, production rose by 9% to 696,400 tons, more than three times the 1995 total. This growth occurred in spite of the government’s plans to cut pesticide production by 2005. Product quality control and distribution are also problematic. As much as 40% of pesticides on the market in China are sold under false brand names, and in Yunnan province, a 2002 study for the Global Greengrants Fund revealed that at least half of pesticide distributors are not legally registered or licensed.

Figures of pesticide poisonings in China are disturbingly high and are probably underestimated. The Chinese government estimates that each year 53,300 to 123,000 people are made ill from pesticides, and 300 to 500 farmers die from pesticide exposure. Localized studies have shown much higher poisoning rates. More than 20% of farming households reported some pesticide poisoning in their homes in a 2001 survey of two small agricultural communities in rural Sichuan conducted by PANNA and the Kunming Center for Community Development. Medical studies of rice farmers in Zhejiang found pesticide poisoning in the liver (22%), in the kidneys (23%), and nerves (6%) of farmers, and also found a relationship between degree of liver function abnormality and amount of pesticide used. Other experts report that more than 100 farmers die of pesticide poisoning each year in Yunnan Province alone.

Consumers who may eat contaminated fruits and vegetables are also at risk for pesticide poisoning, and this type of poisoning may also be fatal. Xinping County Hospital in Yunnan province reported 53 such deaths in the year 2000. Direct consumption of pesticides is still a common method of deliberate poisoning and suicide in China, as in the case reported in 2002, of a snack shop owner who admitted to poisoning his competitor’s customers by putting rat poison in their breakfasts.

Agrow: World Crop Protection News, February 15, 2002 and December 14, 2001; Farm Pesticide, Rice Production, and Human Health, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences,; Pesticides in China: A Growing Threat to Food Safety, Public Health, and the Environment 2002, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, China Environment Series, Issue 5,; Report on Establishing Systems for Controlling Pesticide Residues in Vegetables, 2001, Kunming: Yunnan Entomological Society; San Francisco Chronicle, September 18, 2002.

Contact: PANNA

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