The Middle Kingdom just can’t catch a break, can it? Earlier this week reports broke that pollution from China and the rest of Asia could potentially be fueling storm systems across the Pacific. Now, a government-released survey has found that 19% of China’s arable land is polluted.

China Farmlands

The report was released by China’s environmental ministry and confirms what many experts already suspected: that China’s decades long economic expansion is coming at the expense of the environment. The report studied 6.3 million square kilometers and found that 16.1% of soil and 19.4% of arable land was contaminated.

Most than 1% of the country’s arable land was found to be “seriously” polluted. Most of the pollution comes from heavy metals.

Food supplies in China could be threatened

Arable land refers to land that can be used for farming and agricultural activities, so any impact on said land can reduce a country’s ability to produce food and other vital stuffs. At the same time, there is a high risk that pollution in arable land has made its way into the food supply chain and that people have been adversely affected.

Despite China’s massive size, the country does not have a lot of arable land. Of China’s 9.6 million square kilometers, only 334 million acres are considered arable. Worse yet, this is just 37 million acres above the “red line” that the government has determined is sufficient to feed the country’s population.

So if China loses a significant portion of its arable land to pollution, the country could find itself unable to feed its population, at least without importing large quantities of food. And given price fluctuations in global food markets, most large countries would prefer not to have to rely on outside food supplies.

Cities improving but rural areas still in bad shape

China has slowly been bringing pollution down in major urban areas, such as Beijing. While the problem has not been solved, pollution levels in most major urban areas has been declining. The hinterland, however, is a different story.

Experts have been warning for years that pollution was only increasing in rural areas. Many factories have been built at the outskirts of cities, and pollution runoff is frequently directed to rural areas. Given the efforts to clean up cities, the Chinese government has largely encouraged factories to move to rural areas.

Beyond factories, the use of heavy fertilizers to grow the food necessary to feed China’s billion plus population has also caused problems. The massive levels of environmental degradation just go to show that economic growth can come at a heavy cost.