After taking a stroll through a muddy, crowded Chinese
market with discarded corncobs, piles of peas, globs of bloody slime
and scurrying rats the answer seems clear. The sweaty pork being
inspected by old women and flies could never be as tasty or healthy
as the shrink-wrapped supermarket version. But for anyone who has been inside a cannery or
a slaughterhouse in the West, the answer becomes difficult and increasingly
cultural in nature.
The Twin Cities, Minnesota have the largest Hmong
(a minority from the hills of Vietnam) population in the US, along
with the highest Tibetan population, highest Chinese student population
(University of Minnesota) and a healthy dose of Koreans, Thais and
other Asians. They used to take trips into the Minnesota countryside
to procure "fresh, sanitary" meat
and produce, and are now among the
people lobbying for a new, expanded Farmer's
St. Paul. The demand is coming not only from the immigrants, used
to choosing wiggling pigs and squawking chickens for dinner, but
also from native Minnesotans who hunger for genetically pure/organically-grown
Conversely, the French supermarket chain Carrefour
is enjoying full aisles with its "supermarket with Chinese characteristics" scheme.
outlet has slabs of boneless chicken breasts shining under
lamplight, pork chops, beef ribs and tenderloin steaks kept safe
from flies, snot, spittle and other pollutants. Affluent Chinese
(a minority, albeit a growing one) look skeptical as the employees
assure the broccoli's
freshness, but the pristine presentation is too much for even an
old market hand to resist, and an old woman buys. Not-so-affluent
foreigners arrive for cheese, butter, Pringles, peanut butter, and
the "sanitary environs" that
a supermarket provides.
In the back of every Carrefour, however, hang the
freshly roasted ducks, slaughtered pigs, swimming fish and naked
chickens, and this spot is invariably the busiest.
The question posed by free markets and supermarkets
to the consumer has no objective resolution. Free marketers will
swear by the gurgle of a dying duck and supermarket fanatics will
always prefer the organized sterility of the tranquil supermarket.
The real questions now being posed to food-lovers are: Iowa corn
corn? Hunan Apples or Washington apples? Guangxi
cotton or Georgia cotton?
800 MILLION FARMERS
"Just how far China has come is one of the great accomplishments
in the realm of agriculture. The vast majority of China's population
still is working the land and their incomes lag far behind their
urban neighbors. Farmers have suffered from a shortage of water
and energy. But in the less than a decade since the government lifted
its heavy hand from farmers, China has become the world's leading
producer of fruits and vegetables. China grows seven times the amount
of vegetables and twice as much fruit as the U.S."
Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2001
Every last foot of available space in China is covered
with a crop or two. Remote valleys, hillsides leading down to
the highway, small plots next to garbage dumps, apartments, parking
lots, basketball courts
farming methods have not changed much in a millennia or two. Callused,
spidery, old Chinese men and their thick, rough wives are out in
the fields every day, knee deep in cow-dung, checking on the rice
yield that was once handed over to the government at fire-sale prices.
The government as any man, woman or child alive in China during
the famine of 1958-1960 can tell you was not adept at distribution.
The agricultural reforms started when Sichuan
Province allowed farmers to sell part of their yield on the
free market. The success of this program led to its duplication,
which, in turn, caused an explosion in China's agricultural productivity.
Japan was the first country to feel the growing
might of China's
agricultural industry, when shiitake mushrooms and spring onions
from China threatened to throw Japanese farmers out on the street.
The trade war that ensued after Japan threw up tariff barriers involved
TVs, cell phones and automobiles.
The US government and media have focused on the
projected $1.5 billion in exports to China that American farmers
will enjoy after China enters the WTO, but they have neglected to
mention the immensity of Chinese agriculture. China's
apple production increased from 4 million tons in 1990 to 22.9 million
tons in 2000 and pears increased from 2.5 million tons to 8.6 million
tons over the same period.
China is busy pushing California out of the Japanese
while fearful American farmers clamor for an increase in
federal farm payments. US agriculture depends on Asian markets to
swallow up 38% of their annual exports and this percentage will
fall as China's
farmers keep taking over market after market. American farmers have
good reasons to worry. Chinese produce is less expensive than American
produce and its quality is as good if not better.
In response to farmers' worries, the US has refused
to remove antidumping and product-specific safeguards that World
Bank economists Will Martin and Pieter Bottelier have deemed "protectionist" and
not in keeping with WTO regulations. American farmers claim that
Chinese subsidies and low prices are unfair competition, and the
US government has responded by imposing ridiculously high tariffs.
the Chinese government provides around 2 percent of production in
subsidies, which is far below that of either the EU or the US. According
to an August 12 article, "Federal
Aid Sustains Iowa Farms," by George Anthan and John McCormick
in the Des Moines Register, if federal payments were discontinued,
many of Iowa's farmers and merchants would fail. And we may never
really know how much the US government subsidizes agriculture, since
the US has refused to report its agricultural subsidies to the WTO
since 1997. (It's interesting to note that the WTO agreement reached
by the US and China puts agricultural subsidies at around 8%
below the 10% level for developing countries and above the 5% cap
for developed countries.)
The US government recognizes China's
capitalist might, and has used the WTO trade negotiations to impose
strict rules on China's
industry, while keeping the right to cry "dump" whenever
it pleases. Trade between the East and West seems to follow this
familiar pattern, whenever the West has the military power to enforce
it: open the doors to the East and keep closed the doors to the
West. Such practices crushed the Indian textile and steel industries,
as Noam Chomsky
has pointed out, and forced Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor, as
Justin Raimondo has shown, citing the research
of Robert Stinnett and others. The US is trying to follow the
same strategy in China: opening China's market as much as possible, while keeping Chinese
exports on a tight leash.
An agricultural trade war between the US and China
seems very plausible
both sides claiming unfair barriers and unfair market-distorting
subsidies. What is scary is the US domination of the WTO "consensus process," touted
by the developed economies as "the
only way the WTO can work."
A trade war in which the
US flouts WTO rules while imposing them mercilessly on China
could heat up very quickly. Imagine the chaos if China makes good
on its promise to be the champion of underdeveloped economies
a rival bloc to the one currently in charge of the WTO (US, EU,
printable version of this article
is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared
in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily,
and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column appears Tuesdays.
Towards World Significance
on the Road to Capitalism
American in China
the Street in China: A Report
DOWN TO QUALITY
this peach is good," slobbered
an American traveler recently in Kunming,
the best peach I've
The peach was huge and resplendent on the outside,
with shades of white, pink and soft yellow inviting a big bite.
Inside, crunchy-juicy peach-love made us all murmur
we reached the blood-red center, which made us all gasp. Peaches
cost roughly 30 cents here in .
Unlike Dole, the scourge of Central America, Chinese
farmers are required by the Law of the Old Market Woman to bring
only fresh, ripe produce to the market. No hard green bananas, no
sour grapes, no hard baseball-peaches like the ones found in the
the ones my mom has to leave out for a day or two before we can
pipe-puffing peasant is to blame for all of this. The old methods of farming put more emphasis on
quality over quantity and hard work over technology. The organic
foods so popular these days in the Twin Cities, all over California
and in the lush Northwest, are simply the products of old-style
farming. China's large peasant population and low number of industrialized
farms provide a perfect foundation for organic crops
not only for the Old Market Woman but also for
the Young College Student of the West.
Who would you trust as the ultimate judge of a banana's quality? Gramma Liu or a Dole corporation executive?
has a land problem. Increased urbanization, industrialization and
environmental degradation have destroyed cropland and given rise
to a polluted food supply. (Read "Culture of Pollution"
for a brief description of the Chinese countryside.)
The Communist Party has become very serious about
this problem and has actively promoted non-chemical fertilizers,
genetically modified foods (with the
help of Monsanto) and labor-intensive, organic produce.
According to a June 28 article for Reuters, "China
to Set Pace in Transgenic Cotton Planting," by Lee Chen
Yee, the acreage of transgenic insect-resistant cotton in China
rocketed to about one million hectares in 2000, or 28% of the country's
total cotton area, from less than 100,000 hectares in 1998, or 2.2%
of the total area. This number is supposed to rise another 14.9%
this year. Monsanto's Bt cotton covers about 240,000 hectares in
GM crops are very important to China's
agriculture. Almost a third of China's
produce failed to reach the market in previous years due to poor
transportation, handling and storage facilities, and, above all,
due to pests. China's
shrinking cropland and growing population demand increased efficiency,
seems to be the answer that the government has chosen for many of
its crops, including rice and corn. A "super rice" is
projected to produce roughly 900kg per mu (0.6 hectare) by 2008
current production of first generation super rice
is at 450kg per mu. China is already the world's fourth-largest
grower of GM crops.
The US has been active abroad especially in Thailand,
India and Sri Lanka promoting GM crops and threatening WTO retaliation
for any opposition, including the labeling of GM products. Monsanto
has the blessing of the government, as can be seen in several court
cases won by Monsanto against small farmers. In one case, GM seeds
blew over into a farmer's
field and Monsanto sued the farmer, claiming a violation of intellectual
property rights. China has a knack for learning from others' mistakes,
and has patented both its "super rice" and
a version of Bt-Cotton called "Guokang."
After hearing from experts, such as Vaclav
Smil, that China's mass industrialization, coupled with its environmental
crisis, could lead to a need for mass importation of food or even
famine, China's agricultural revolution surprised many in the West.
It's no longer a surprise, but a threat to American farmers, a boon
for American consumers and a possible future flashpoint for the
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