Analyzing China's Import Activity and its Efforts to Achieve Food Security


By Rich alterman, The Food Institute

Jul 16, 2021


Among the factors behind soaring agricultural commodity prices this past year has been China’s food imports and its efforts to boost food security. And while pandemic-related supply constraints among exporters grabbed headlines, China has been heavily reliant on food imports for years.


With that, the most populated country in the world is attempting to address its food shortages.


China relies on imports for several major crops as well as animal feeds. Demand for the latter is being driven by the country’s increasing appetite for meat as it becomes wealthier. China is expected to import a record 44 million metric tons of coarse grains for the 12 months ending in September—more than double from a year earlier—as its corn purchases hit records, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The deteriorating relationship between China and exporters like the U.S. and Australia has increased the urgency of boosting domestic food supply (The Wall Street Journal, July 13).


Arable land and food safety


While economic development has allowed China to make considerable strides toward feeding its 1.4 billion population, serious obstacles remain for the world’s largest food importer. Chinese leaders face the dual challenge of maintaining economic growth while feeding the country’s growing urban population with a countryside that features about 0.21 acres of arable land per capita.


The lack of arable land is further complicated by the reality that poor regulation has caused significant environmental damage, which greatly limits domestic production capacity. In 2018, 15.5 percent of China’s groundwater was labeled “Grade V,” meaning it was so polluted that it was unsuitable for any use. Widespread soil contamination, especially in southern areas like Henan province, prompted the government to prohibit the farming of eight million acres of contaminated agricultural land until it can be rehabilitated.


Food safety issues have also hit the country in recent years. In 2008, tainted baby formula killed six infants and sickened more than 300,000. Additional scandals have included the seizure of $483 million worth of illegally smuggled meat in 2015 and numerous instances of the use of illegal “gutter oil” in restaurants. The implications are damaged consumer confidence in many Chinese-made food products, pushing some consumers to seek products made outside of the country. A 2016 survey found that roughly 40 percent of Chinese consumers considered food safety to be “a very big problem,” up from just 12 percent in 2008.


With that, China made major revisions to its national Food Safety Law in 2015 to tighten food safety regulations and strengthen enforcement, but challenges persist. The 2019 Global Food Security Index ranked China 38th out of 113 countries in terms of food quality and safety. (China Power Project/Center for Strategic & International Studies, August 2020).


Other government actions …


Support for domestic seed industry and “space rice” ...


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