In the last decade, Chinese citizens, like Americans, have become increasingly defensive of their right to know. They’ve noticed that bad things happen when companies and multinational corporations aren’t held accountable for the environmental damage they cause. In fact, environmental pollution has become such a problem in China that it often can’t be kept a secret. The air in some places is so thick with industrial toxins that children are actually encouraged to stay home from school. For similar reasons, important, life-sustaining waterways have become a source of cancer. In fact, entire villages have struggled with malignant epidemics linked to industrial sources upstream and upwind. Toxic metals used to construct modern electronic devices and agricultural chemicals haven’t been properly regulated.
Historically, these very visible and painful consequences haven’t been as visible to the consumer halfway across the globe. We do not see anyone suffering the consequences of our most recent smartphone or laptop purchases. We also don’t have to walk through the asthma inducing smog that has become particularly worrisome in disadvantaged communities. The consequences of our materialistic desires belong to another people and place. It is easy for us to forget that our own money often fuels so much devastation in major manufacturing nations like China.
But why should Chinese citizens sacrifice their health for the global economy and, ultimately, non-essential goods? Is there any way Americans can work together with the Chinese to put these industrial atrocities to an end? Can we uphold espoused commitments to be good global citizens in a more realistic sense than simply trying to be more aware of global environmental problems?
Chinese food safety investigators have recently identified an environmental threat that lends itself to cooperative Chinese-American solutions. These volunteers discovered that in addition to all of the other environmental cover-ups and concerns the Chinese regularly deal with, an American company may have hidden important information from Chinese consumers for years. These volunteers were appalled when they realized that the Chinese government did not properly test the herbicide Roundup before it entered Chinese markets. Rather, for some yet unknown reason, the Chinese Ag Ministry allowed Monsanto, an American company, to present its own animal safety tests to demonstrate that Roundup was indeed safe for the Chinese people. The tests used to justify the active ingredient’s safety were not conducted by a Chinese laboratory under Monsanto’s hire, as would usually be required to pass federal inspection, but by another American company called Younger Laboratories. Chinese citizens are now asking an important question: Why did an American company have so much influence over the Chinese scientific process and agricultural market when Roundup was first approved? How did China then reach a place where Roundup accounts for 80% of China’s national herbicide market?
Americans are currently asking similar questions. The FDA and EPA have been accused time and again of lending a larger ear to giant agribusinesses, like Monsanto, than to consumer interest groups hoping to uphold important chemical safety benchmarks. Misinformation, the commercialization of toxic products, and government employees with previous ties to these agribusinesses lend to consumer skepticism. Today, numerous grassroots groups work round the clock to monitor the strings that are pulled when companies like Monsanto get a new, environmentally dangerous herbicide approved.
Chemicals like Roundup are extra controversial both here and in China because they are used to treat genetically modified, Roundup resistant crops. Today, genetically modified American soybeans are actually exported to China where they become part of the Chinese food supply. The glyphosate residues on these food products, when ingested three times a day, on a regular basis, are then taken up by the human body, where they can potentially cause damage.
The fact that soybeans are imported at all might seem ironic to a Chinese farmer as soybeans are native to China and were once a reliable export crop. Today China imports roughly 80% of its soy supply. These soy seeds are primarily consumed as soy oils that are used in numerous processed food products. If these soy seeds were previously treated with Roundup, they will contain both toxic glyphosate residues and toxic surfactant residues from the chemicals used to make the Roundup stick to soy leaves.
Following the recent publication of a paper exposing the potential problems with GM foods and glyphosate, the Chinese Army announced that it would no longer permit GMO foods or oils in it’s food supply. The author, Mi Zhen-yu, has a variety of respectable credentials not least of which is his position as the vice president of the Academy of Military Science. As Chinese citizens demand more accountability from both industry and their government, it seems likely that other government departments might follow suit. The significance of these stances cannot be underestimated in a society that is no longer willing to tolerate significant threats to its health. We should stand behind the Chinese people as they demand more information about the GMO and herbicide products used in both of our nations.
You can visit the following links for more information:
Mi Zhen-yu: We must face the harm caused by imported GM soybeans to 1.3 billion Chinese people.
Chen I-wan. Chinese People Fight Back on Monsanto Against Glyphosate-based Roundup.