In China, food scares put Mao's self-sufficiency goal at risk
An official at China's environmental ministry said last month that a nationwide soil survey revealed traces of toxic heavy metals that were deposited as long as a century ago. It also revealed extensive use of banned pesticides - a sign that farmers, under pressure to produce more, may be as culpable as heavy industry.
"Sea and river pollution, heavy metal pollution of the soil and atmospheric pollution are very serious causes of environmental damage, but we should say that the biggest contributor is agriculture," said Wen Tiejun, dean at the School of Agricultural Economics at China's Renmin University.
Experts say 60 percent of the pesticides used on China's severely overworked farms are used improperly, further contaminating the food chain. Chinese farmers are also known to use arsenic in animal feed to help fight disease and speed growth, raising levels of the toxin in rice to dangerous levels in some regions.
With all this pressure on China's farmland and water supplies, senior agricultural officials are beginning to question the long-held goal of self-sufficiency.
"An appropriate increase in imports, if it doesn't affect our country's security, will be of benefit in easing domestic resource and environmental pressures," Chen Xiwen, head of the Communist Party's top working group on rural policy, told a forum this month.
"We do need to consider a more positive strategy towards going overseas, and make full use of the global market."