Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 10 per cent of rice sold in China is tainted with cadmium and other heavy metals, this according to a report from the Nanjing Agricultural University's Institute of Resource, Ecosystem and Environment of Agriculture cited in the magazine New Century.
After taking samples from more than 100 kinds of rice collected in six agricultural regions in 2007, researchers found that 10 per cent of them was laced with cadmium, a heavy metal linked to high blood pressure, bone fractures and pain.
The research team, led by Professor Pan Genxing, repeated the survey in 2008, concentrating this time on the country's southern provinces of Jiangxi, Hunan and Guangdong. It found that over 60 per cent of the rice samples it took were tainted with cadmium. In some samples, the cadmium level was equal to five times the legal limit.
The authorities did not refute the information but claimed the samples were not representative even if they came from a number of sources.
Pan said he believes rice pollution is more common in the south because "the soils there are acidic". In fact, "Much of the cadmium comes from the chemical waste of local blast furnaces, and rice absorbs more cadmium than any other crop," he explained.
The study was undertaken after rural residents near industrial plants and mines complained about health problems. Speaking about farmers, Pan said, “All of what they eat comes from the field. So cadmium is very likely to accumulate in their bodies, and endanger their health."
Shang Qi, a researcher with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "Cadmium tainting is prevalent in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Guizhou and Hunan provinces, but not other parts of the country."
China produces each year about 200 million tonnes of rice, the main staple in the country’s cuisine. If the figures about tainted rice are correct, that would mean that 20 million tonnes are toxic.
In 2002, a survey by the Ministry of Agriculture found that 28.4 per cent of the surveyed rice was contaminated with lead, and 10.3 per cent with cadmium, the People’s Daily reported.
Besides cadmium, other elements such as copper, zinc, lead and arsenic contaminate rice plantations across the nation.
China has been plagued for years with food safety issues due to widespread pollution as well as counterfeit food.
In September 2008, a scandal involving melamine-tainted powder milk broke out.
Melamine, an organic compound used in making plastics that is highly toxic to humans, was added to baby formula to make it appear to have a higher protein content. Six infants died from drinking the formula and more than 300,000 got sick from kidney-related diseases.
After the initial furore died down, the government provide victims with insignificant compensation, whilst preventing families from suing companies for damages.
Zhao Lianhai, whose child fell ill because of the powder milk, tried to organised parents to protect their rights and was sent to prison for his troubles.