Despite another bumper grain harvest, the ninth year of record output in a row, the quality of produce sold to domestic consumers in China continues to be a problem.

The nearly 590 million tons of grain produced this year accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s total, according to estimates by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO has also said that China produced 56% of the world’s vegetables and melons in 2010.

However, agricultural experts at a forum in Beijing over the weekend said the mainland’s best farm produce was exported, because international standards for exported foods were much stricter than domestic ones. Meanwhile, domestic consumers were often frustrated by low-quality, or even unsafe produce, and growers often had problems selling their produce for decent prices.

Dong Xide, deputy director of Shanxi’s agriculture department, said China should abide by international standards and supply the same good quality produce to domestic and foreign consumers. An item destined for export to Japan had to pass more than 240 tests, he said, while only a handful of tests were conducted if it was to be sold domestically.

“If we produce high-quality agricultural produce for ourselves, instead of just for foreigners, the agricultural sector will be boosted, and farmers can have a much better income,” he said at the forum.

Professor Zhang Zhenghe, from the college of economics and management at China Agricultural University, said there was a big market for high-end produce, even at much higher prices. “As long as it’s good enough, I don’t see why rice priced at 100 yuan a kilogram will be too expensive for Chinese consumers today,” he said. “What’s the point of ranking No1 in terms of GDP while having a population suffering from illnesses like high blood pressure because of lousy food?”

Japan’s Positive List System, which aims to ensure food safety, sets standards for 516 types of chemical residue in foods. In China, 405 of them – 78% – are unregulated. While the country’s best produce is exported, a large quantity of lower-end produce goes to waste.

Professor Ma Ji, also from China Agricultural University, said media reports of poor sales of farm produce had doubled in the past seven years, with crops left to rot in fields. Ma said that of the 661 cases examined by his team since 2005, 95% had affected individual growers – farmers who were less educated and had less access to market information.

Professor Li Lite, from the university’s college of food science and nutritional engineering, said that even though China was growing large quantities of produce, farmers did not benefit much because most were farming on a small scale and profits were limited.

Source: South China Morning Post Dec 2012

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