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Safeguarding Food Security and Safety through Reform and Innovation

By Li Wei 2015-07-28

It is the common goal of mankind to have enough to eat and feel secure which can only be achieved by scientific policy-making. Prioritizing national food security on the agenda of all economic work, President Xi Jinping states clearly the national food security strategy of relying largely on self production, targeting domestic market, ensuring productivity, importing moderately and being supported by science and technology. In a recent speech made at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Premier Li Keqiang states that Chinese have a long held belief of "food being the paramount necessity". China will always maintain sufficient food supply mainly by domestic production. These statements fully indicate that Chinese leaders attach great importance to food security in the governance of China.

As a developing country with a large population, China, through hard work for decades, has made remarkable achievements in supplying sufficient and safe food to our people. From 1978 to 2013, China's grain yield increases by 98%, output of edible oil by nearly 6 times, fruit production by over 37 folds and output of aquatic products by more than 12 times. From 1996 to 2013, China's production of meat, egg and dairy products rises by 86%, 46% and nearly 4 times respectively. Now, great food varieties in both urban and rural markets offer more choices to the customers. While supplying sufficient food with great varieties, China is also sparing no efforts in improving food safety. In recent years, more than 95% of all agricultural products in the country meet the national quality standard. This percentage improves to nearly 97% in 2013. The same indicator even rises to 97.3% in the first three quarters of this year. Over 90% of food products in the market passes safety inspection and random checks.

In spite of all the achievements, we need to be aware of the fact that we still have much to do in maintaining food security and safety and improving the ability to guarantee both of them. It is an arduous task full of challenges requiring long-term commitment to meet the updated demand of urban and rural residents for adequate and quality food.

——In terms of grain quantity, the biggest demand is yet not to come. Population, urbanization, and income are the three main factors affecting the total grain demand. In the coming future, total population and residents' income are expected to grow and urbanization process is expected to continue. These developments will consequentially push the consumption of major agricultural products like grain to rise. With regard to the total population, people in academia still debate over the estimates of the peak of population growth. Generally, the growth peak could be somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5 billion. Extrapolated from 1.36 billion at the end of 2013, an increase of 40 to 140 million in China's total population will translate into a rise in food demand If we calculate total grain demand based on the current annual average grain consumption of 400 kg per capita. The increase in population alone will lead to a rise of grain demand of 16 to 56 billion kg.

With regard to China's urbanization, only 36% of the population is urbanized if only the residents registering their residence in urban areas are included. The index is only 53.7% if all permanent residents in urban areas are included in the calculation regardless of where they register their residence. Both percentages are far below the average of 80% in developed countries. Research shows that urban residents consume less grain but more animal products than their rural counterparts. The sum of the direct and indirect grain consumption of urban residents is higher than that of the rural residents. Total grain demand will increase as rural population moves to cities and towns.

Moreover, residents' income will grow with China's economic development. After people have enough to eat and wear, but before food consumption pattern is restructured, the increase in income will result in shrinking consumption in grain but rising consumption in animal products, which will ultimately lead to an increase in total grain consumption. By reference to the growth pattern of food consumption in Japan and Republic of Korea where people have similar diet with Chinese, only when GDP per capita reaches USD20,000 will food consumption be restructured to a proper pattern. GDP per capita in China is far below this level.

In sum, population in China is expected to grow. China will enter the phase of rapid development when urbanization rate will grow from 50% to 70% and will develop from middle- and high-income country to a high-income country. Therefore, China's consumption of animal products such as meat, eggs, milk, and fish will grow and the total demand for grain will continue to rise. In terms of the demand for food quality, urban and rural residents have higher demand for the quality and safety of grain and food products.

——With income growth and improvement of living conditions, people in urban and rural areas pay more attention to health. They demand for better and safer food. Not just satisfied with enough food to eat, people demand for safer food products with more varieties and better quality. However, because of backward production and management, market participants' lack of credibility and poor market supervision, food safety in China is not well nurtured and faces a lot of problems.

Due to its large population and limited land area, China needs to develop intensive farming and use agricultural chemicals to increase yield. The possibly inappropriate application of chemicals in agricultural production may result in too much residue. China has more than 200 million farming households, over 400,000 food enterprises, 3 million food wholesalers and retailers and a large number of individual food sellers. Because safeguarding food safety requires technical work conducted by specialized personnel and faces difficulty in monitoring the whole process, information symmetry is hard to achieve among supervisors, manufacturers, traders and consumers. Problems could emerge somewhere in food supply chain from field to table and from farm to fork. Since we are now living at a time characterized by mega data and informationalization, the occurrence of any local problem or individual incident could spread rapidly and produce huge impact. In recent years, food safety is one of the hotspot issues concerned by the general public and it is also a hard nut to crack. Therefore, it is a challenging undertaking calling for long term efforts to strengthen supervision and control over the food supply chain so as to ensure food safety.

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