Caixin
Aug 30, 2016 06:04 PM

NGO questions Xinxiang's claim it bought all cadmium-laced wheat

(Beijing) – The environmental group that recently uncovered cadmium-tainted wheat in Xinxiang, Henan Province, said it is still investigating the local government's claim that it had bought the entire contaminated stock.

Cui Wenjun, head of the district's Environmental Protection Bureau, told Caixin on Aug 29 that the Xinxiang government had bought from the summer harvest an undisclosed amount of wheat that was suspected of being contaminated with the carcinogenic soft metal.

Tian Jing, a volunteer at the nongovernmental organization, Airman in Beijing, said that the NGO had found high levels of cadmium in wheat samples it collected over a 12-month period, starting in June 2015, on 10 hectares of land near two battery factories in Xinxiang's Muye District. The samples contained six to 34 times more cadmium than allowed by national food safety standards, she said.

Cui said the local government had known about the problem of soil contamination in the land near the factories and earmarked the area for a soil restoration project in 2012. But local farmers flouted the government ban and continued to grow wheat there anyway, he said.

Cui said the government had bought all the wheat grown on the toxic land and will use the wheat to make industrial starch used in paper mills and textile manufacturing and ethanol.

But Tian said the NGO was able to independently verify only that authorities had purchased the harvest from fields near one factory, and did so by interviewing farmers and inspecting government-run granaries.

Wheat grown in some of the most toxic plots of land may have been released to the market before district authorities bought up the stock, she said. The NGO was still probing the government's claim that the entire harvest had been purchased, Tian added.

Chinese consumers have been hit in recent years by a string of food safety scandals linked to contaminated soil.

An unannounced quantity of cadmium-laced rice was found in shelves in the southern province of Guangdong in 2013. Over half of it came from the central province of Hunan, another hub of chemical manufacturing.

A survey released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources in April 2014 found that over 16 percent of all soil samples collected nationwide had unacceptable levels of pollutants, including cadmium. Nearly one-fifth of the 133 million hectares of farmland in the country is contaminated and not suitable to grow food for consumption, the survey discovered.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com); editor Poornima Weerasekara (poornima@caixin.com)

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