When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Harvest rice field in Xiangtan, Hunan, China
Harvest rice field in Xiangtan, Hunan, China
Gong Jing

For the past six months, the Chinese media has been reporting that rice grown in the south-central Hunan Province contains unacceptable levels of cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal.

Last month, an inspection of samples in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, revealed that more than half the batches of cadmium-tainted rice came from three rice mills in the neighboring Hunan Province.

Hunan rice is facing an unprecedented crisis of consumer confidence.

There is an old Chinese proverb dating from the late Ming period that says: “When Hunan reaps its harvest, all under heaven want for nothing.” The province produces 11 million tons of rice every year – 11% of China’s annual rice crop. However since March, there has been a public panic about Hunan rice.

In many parts in Guangdong Province, it is now difficult to find any Hunan rice. The majority of Hunan’s rice producers have stopped their operations, either partially or totally. The panic has also spread to the rest of the country.

It has been months since the issue first came to light, but Hunan Province officials have stayed silent. State-owned Xinhua news agency says they have been asking for an interview with province authorities since February, but all their requests have been denied. This silence has to some extent exacerbated the spread of panic.

It’s practically impossible for all Hunan rice to be contaminated. Researchers say their sampling shows that 65% of the rice tested in selected samples had unacceptable levels of cadmium. Other researchers say their findings are more in the 20-40% range.

In effect, most Hunan rice does not have excessive levels of cadmium. There is plenty of premium-quality rice in Hunan province that shouldn’t be targeted by bans and boycotts.

Furthermore, the duty of Hunan Province authorities is to inform the public and tell the truth about the situation, specifying the exact proportion of rice that was found to be contaminated.

Wide-ranging testing and transparency

Hunan needs to learn from the experience of Guangdong province. In February, Guangzhou’s Nanfang Daily newspaper reported that cereal giant Shenzhen Cereals Group had bought 10,000 tons of contaminated Hunan rice in 2009. After inspectors found high levels of cadmium, the rice was supposed to be used for industrial purposes only. However, said the newspaper, the company only disposed of 1% of the tainted rice and sold the rest to consumers at a discount price.

After the Nanfang Daily report, Guangdong authorities launched a wide-ranging inspection of rice mills and markets in over 20 cities across the province. They discovered nearly 200 batches of tainted rice and published their origins as well as their brands. The contaminated rice was dealt with according to the law.

Obviously, Hunan authorities need urgently to conduct their own wide-ranging inspection across the province. This is the right attitude – not to mention the duty – of a government that is responsible for the public health of its constituents.

This inspection must be truly wide-ranging and should apply to everyone. To gain the trust of the public, credible civil third parties should to be involved in the inspection. The local food control authorities and oversight bodies could preside over the whole operation.

The inspection would have two effects:

First, it would serve to expose the real problems. A lot of "cadmium rice" will be found, which will bring to light issues such as agricultural soil contamination and other problems related to rice cultivation. The current situation is serious, and Hunan authorities can no longer hide from these issues.

Second, it would serve to clear the untainted rice brands, which have been unjustly put in the same back as the contaminated brands. Hunan authorities should allow the producers of untainted rice to put an indication or label on their packaging saying that their rice has passed inspections. This would allow high-quality Hunan rice to be once again sold all over China.

In the future, it is necessary for Hunan Province to make cadmium testing a mandatory thing, and that all its rice is inspected. This would go a long way to restoring the public’s trust.

In any case, Hunan authorities need to talk to the public openly about the cadmium issue – without any further delay.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Journalism In A Zero-Trust World: Maria Ressa Speaks After Rappler Shut Down Again

The Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke with The Wire's Arfa Khanum Sherwani about how journalists everywhere need to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario of government-ordered closure and what they should do to face up to such a challenge.

Maria Ressa, Filipino journalist, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Arfa Khanum Sherwani

HONOLULU — For someone who’s just been ordered to shut down the news website she runs, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is remarkably cheerful about what may happen next.

In a speech she gave to a conference at the East-West Center here on challenges the media face in a “zero trust world”, Ressa said that she and her colleagues were prepared for this escalation in the Philippines government’s war on independent media and will carry on doing the work they do. “If you live in a country where the rule of law is bent to the point it’s broken, anything is possible…. So you have to be prepared.”

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ