China, reeling from a series of scandals over the safety of its food, will pull thousands of pesticides from the shelves to improve regulation of their sale and use, the Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday.
Farmers are faced with some 23,000 products sold under 16,000 names, leaving them unclear as to what they are spraying on their crops and in what quantities.
Right now there are more than 1,700 in common use, but there is a kaleidoscope of product names that a lot of people don't know," Wang Shoucong, deputy director of the ministry's crop production department, told a news conference.
We must control remaining pesticides to safeguard our exports of agricultural products," he said, according to a Web cast carried on the ministry's site (www.agri.gov.cn).
China has been struggling to regulate its food production system in the face of health and safety breaches that have reverberated through its export markets, including in the United States and Europe.
Much of China's food production takes places on small, family farms, which often fall below regulators' radar screens.
Wang said his ministry would tighten registration procedures for pesticides on the market, standardize packaging regulations to ensure the list of ingredients was legible and reduce the number of products on the shelves.
Otherwise, their quality and use was unclear to farmers, meaning consequences for the environment and for the safety of food and grain products.
In this situation, farmers' use of pesticides is ineffective and that inefficiency can cause losses," Cai Daoji, of the Nanjing Environmental Studies Research Centre, told the news conference.
China already banned five high toxicity pesticides as of January 1, 2007, but experts say old stock is still in the market, in the hands of traders, retailers and farmers themselves.