Jenner & Block: China’s Toxic Rice Bowl

Jenner & Block: China’s Toxic Rice Bowl

    By E. Lynn Grayson, Partner, Jenner & Block

Last month, as many celebrated Rachel Carson's birthday, we remembered her environmental work and the landmark publication of her book, Silent Spring. In doing so, we should be reminded of how far environmental protection efforts have advanced in the U.S. and continue to progress in addressing both existing but also new challenges. While some are frustrated or disappointed at the lack of progress on key environmental concerns, appreciating how far we have come with environmental protection initiatives is easier to view when compared to the performance of other countries such as China. Consider the following news story regarding cadmium contamination.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled, China's Toxic Rice Bowl. The editorial addressed the contamination of rice with cadmium - a heavy metal that causes cancer, kidney failure and other diseases.

In China, heavy industry is responsible for dumping cadmium into rivers. Cadmium contamination has been detected not only in rice crops but has caused fish kills, contaminated water supplies and caused acute cadmium poisoning in entire villages.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the full extent of soil contamination is unknown and activists who expose polluters are regularly imprisoned. Local officials protect mines and factories that provide revenue, both legitimate and corrupt. Likewise, officials allow farmers to continue to grow and to sell their contaminated rice crops to avoid any relocation or compensation that may be required.

While environmental challenges remain to be addressed in the U.S., there are regulatory, civil and criminal systems in place to manage and respond to problems, both government initiated as well as citizens' actions. Moreover, U.S. businesses have made environmental protection a priority for many years and often are the champions of improved and new environmental and sustainability initiatives.

For many reasons, China's governmental systems as well as private industry there appear unable to effectively respond to growing environmental threats and food safety challenges.

Read more at Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog by Jenner & Block LLP.

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