World View: China Admits That 20% of Its Farmland Is Polluted

This morning's key headlines from

  • China admits that 20% of its farmland is polluted with cadmium
  • Pro-Russian Ukraine activists refuse to stand down
  • MERS in Malaysia raises concerns of 'super-spreader'

China admits that 20% of its farmland is polluted with cadmium

A previously top secret report has emerged from China's Environmental Protection Ministry showing that 19.4% of China's farmland is contaminated with heavy metals, particularly cadmium, nickel, and arsenic. The toxins come from factories and mining. Rice crops are particularly vulnerable, since rice paddies are flooded with water, so the soil can be contaminated by a mine that's miles away. The report was released as a result of numerous scandals about tainted rice containing cadmium, which can cause kidney damage or cancer. Almost half the supplies of rice sold in Guangzhou, a major city, are contaminated with cadmium.

Chinese food traders have little regard for the dangers caused by tainted food. Investigations have shown that traders have been selling rice known to be cadmium-tainted to food processors. This is reminiscent of 2008, when some 54,000 babies fell ill and were hospitalized with kidney problems because of melamine added to milk powder to fool inspectors into thinking that it had more protein than it really had. (See "A generational view of China's growing melamine food disaster" from 2008.) AP and Shanghai Daily

Pro-Russian Ukraine activists refuse to stand down

Pro-Russian east Ukraine activists have refused to honor the international agreement that was signed on Thursday, saying that they weren't bound by any agreement that they were never asked to sign. As we reported several days ago, Russia's ambassador to the European Union said that any such agreement would be "betraying" the people of eastern Ukraine, and he's right -- activists are saying that Russia sold them out. They're refusing to vacate the buildings they had occupied until the Ukraine's interim government in Kiev is ousted. Russia is supporting this opposition. The White House has warned of "serious consequences" if Russia does not honor the agreement it signed. 

Many commentators believe that Russia's president Vladimir Putin is looking for an excuse or just waiting until the time is right to order an invasion of east Ukraine. But he's had plenty of excuses up until now, and his 40,000 man army has been on Ukraine's border for weeks. He could have ordered an invasion at any time in the last few weeks if he had wanted to. 

It's at least as probable that Putin is looking for a way to avoid invading and to create a status quo under terms favorable to Russia. An invasion would not be quick and would meet a great deal of local resistance. Russia's army would get bogged down in a protracted battle which, according to several analysts, Russia cannot afford. Under this interpretation, Putin's flip-flop was really an act of desperation, as he had ruled out an invasion and had no other viable choice. AP

MERS in Malaysia raises concerns of 'super-spreader'

MERS-CoV (the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) raised serious concerns late last year as it was spreading in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. But now two new outbreaks, one in the Middle East and one in Malaysia, is causing new concerns that the virus may have mutated and can spread more easily. 

There have been 238 confirmed cases of MERS up until now, with 92 leading to death, which is a high death rate. In the last week there were 20 cases in two distinct clusters, one in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and one in Malaysia. It's known that both clusters were caused by a 54-year old man who traveled between Saudi Arabia and Singapore in mid-March but did not become ill until April 4. 

It was just such a "super-spreader" who caused the SARS virus to become an international crisis a decade ago. The fear is that the MERS virus has mutated enough to allow such a super-spreader to cause another international crisis. Arab News and Recombinomics and World Health Organization (WHO)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, Environment Protection, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, Guangzhou, Ukraine, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, MERS-CoV 

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