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|09 November, 2018

China to tackle heavy metals in new rural pollution plan

Beijing is under increasing pressure to tackle decades of rural pollution as arable land shrinks.

A resident selects ginger at a supermarket in Beijing, China January 2, 2018.

A resident selects ginger at a supermarket in Beijing, China January 2, 2018.

REUTERS/Jason Lee

SHANGHAI- China aims to tackle heavy metal pollution, curb fertiliser use and improve water quality by 2020 under a new plan launched by the country's environment ministry to tackle "grim" conditions in rural areas.

After a four-year effort to reduce choking smog in some of its biggest cities and industrial areas, Beijing is under increasing pressure to tackle decades of rural pollution as arable land shrinks.

Farming has been damaged by the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, the accumulation of household trash and untreated livestock waste as well as rapid urbanisation.

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"On the whole, the situation of China's agricultural and rural environment remains grim," an unnamed official said in comments accompanying the new policy, pointing to "dirty and chaotic" villages.

The latest plan, released on the website of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment late on Thursday, seeks to guarantee the safety of drinking water supplies, strengthen sewage and garbage treatment, enhance waste recycling and cut the use of pesticides and fertilisers by 2020.

China will also investigate and treat farmland that has been contaminated by the mining and smelting of heavy metals like lead, zinc and cadmium, while measures should be taken to prevent agricultural products contaminated by heavy metals from entering the food chain, it said.

Enforcing environmental rules in the countryside has been a focus for the country's pollution inspectors this year, with regions under scrutiny for failing to treat livestock waste and for allowing industrial development to encroach on protected nature reserves. 

China has already published plans to clean up the rural environment along the banks of its longest river, the Yangtze. The plan promised to cut pesticide and fertiliser use, relocate people from ecologically vulnerable villages and set up "no grazing zones" to help rejuvenate the land.

(Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin) ((david.stanway@thomsonreuters.com; +86 21 6104 1799; Reuters Messaging: david.stanway.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))