China’s teeming factory meat farms have a drug problem. To make animals grow quickly under cramped, feces-ridden conditions, animals there get fed small, doses of antibiotics—creating ideal breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens that threaten people.
A research team led by scientists from China and Michigan State University recently found “diverse and abundant antibiotic resistance genes in Chinese swine farms,” as the title of the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, put it. According to a recent analysis by a Beijing-based agribusiness consulting firm, more than half of total Chinese antibiotic consumption goes to livestock.
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
Besides the self-immolations, farmers have killed themselves by other means to protest land expropriation. One Chinese nongovernmental organization, the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, reported that in addition to 6 self-immolations last year, 15 other farmers killed themselves. Others die when they refuse to leave their property: last year, a farmer in the southern city of Changsha who would not yield was run over by a steamroller, and last month, a 4-year-old girl in Fujian Province was struck and killed by a bulldozer while her family tried to stop an attempt to take their land.
Amid the turmoil, the government is debating new policies to promote urbanization. A plan to speed up urbanization was supposed to have been unveiled earlier this year, but it has been delayed over concerns that the move to cities is already stoking social tensions. New measures are also being contemplated to increase rural residents’ property rights.
Just before the start of the long holiday weekend last Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced that it was ending a ban on processed chicken imports from China. The kicker: These products can now be sold in the U.S. without a country-of-origin label.
For starters, just four Chinese processing plants will be allowed to export cooked chicken products to the U.S., as first reported by Politico . The plants in question passed USDA inspection in March. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. Because of that, the poultry processors won’t be required to have a USDA inspector on site, as The New York Times notes , adding:
"And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants."
Not that American chickens are safer than Chinese ones
The new cheaper iPhone that Apple will unveil to a global audience on Tuesday is being produced under illegal and abusive conditions in Chinese factories owned by one of America’s largest manufacturing businesses, investigators have claimed.
Workers are asked to stand for 12-hour shifts with just two 30-minute breaks, six days a week, the non-profit organisation China Labor Watch has claimed . Staff are allegedly working without adequate protective equipment, at risk from chemicals, noise and lasers, for an average of 69 hours a week. Apple has a self-imposed limit of 60 working hours a week.
The study, just published in the science journal Nature Communications, reveals that mainlanders have far more antibiotic-resistant genes in their gut microbes than Europeans, which reflects higher per capita use of antibiotics.
Interpreting the results, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said that because the gut is a favourable breeding environment for bacteria, more antibiotic -resistant genes would increase the chance of superbugs developing there. If one escaped, infected someone and spread to others, available antibiotics would be ineffective, he said.
Zhu Baoli, a researcher with the Institute of Microbiology at the Chinese Academy of Science, who led the study, said that while mainland doctors tended to prescribe many more antibiotics than their European counterparts, the more serious issue was the use of veterinary antibiotics to increase food production. The drug-resistant bacteria could easily be passed from animals to humans.
"We projected that Beijing’s water capacity could support 12 million people, but Beijing’s population has now reached 20 million people,” Xu has said .
Aquatic environment expert Wang Jian suggested that the capital’s overpopulation was the fundamental problem: “Beijing’s population has grown from four million to 20 million, and that is why our water consumption grows every year…Beijing’s population should not increase to 25 million or even 30 million in the future.”
Though limiting the city’s population is one possible solution, the water authority is placing its hopes on the multibillion South to North water diversion project. It has been claimed that this will bring an extra one billion cubic meters of water into Beijing when construction is completed in 2014.
Yet recent reports of pollution in Danjiangkou , a crucial water source for the diversion project, raises questions over the ability of the water diversion project to solve Beijing’s water shortage. Four out of the five rivers that flow into the Danjiangkou are plagued with pollution and do not meet the quality standard for daily use.
“Water shortages will severely limit thermal power capacity additions,” said Charles Yonts, head of sustainable research at brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Hong Kong. “You can’t reconcile targets for coal production in, say, Shanxi province and Inner Mongolia with their water targets.”
[…] About half of China’s rivers have dried up since 1990 and those that remain are mostly contaminated. Without enough water, coal can’t be mined, new power stations can’t run and the economy can’t grow. At least 80 percent of the nation’s coal comes from regions where the United Nations says water supplies are either “stressed” or in “absolute scarcity.”
[…] “In an absolute worst case you’d see a large-scale shift in economic activity and population further south for lack of water, and manufacturing increasingly moving abroad,” said Scott Moore, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Sustainability Science Program in Cambridge, Massachusetts .
.. in the process of emerging as the globe’s manufacturing center — the place that provides us with everything from the simplest of brooms to the smartest of phones — China has severely damaged its land and water resources, compromising its ability to increase food production even as its economy thunders along, its population grows (albeit slowly), and its people gain wealth, move up the food chain, and demand ever-more meat.
..now, 35 years since it began reforming its state-dominated economy along market lines, China’s spectacular run as provider of its own food is looking severely strained. Its citizens’ appetite for meat is rising along with incomes, and mass-producing steaks and chops for 1.2 billion people requires tremendous amounts of land and water. Meanwhile, its manufacturing miracle — the very thing that financed its food miracle — has largely fouled up or just plain swallowed those very resources.
Laszlo Montgomery presents topics covering 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture.
Yuanhuai [元懐], Epitaph [墓志] (517)
Ouyang Xun [歐陽詢], [九成宮醴泉銘] (632)
Yu Shinan [虞世南], [破邪論序] (629)
Wang Xizhi [王羲之], Lantingji Xu [ 蘭亭集序] (353)
Tang era copy by Feng Chengsu (馮承素), (627-50)
Yu Shinan [虞世南], Confucius Temple Monument [孔子廟堂碑] (c.626)