Poison-Proofing China

Health and environmental threats are common in China, because perverse incentives encourage dangerous practices, including adulteration of food and drugs. To foster widespread compliance with quality and safety standards, Chinese authorities must craft appropriate inducements, rather than relying on top-down policies.

Editors’Note: August 4, 2017
Legitimateobjections have been raised about the independence and integrity of thecommentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, inparticular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readersshould be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it beenknown at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constitutedgrounds for rejecting them.

STANFORD – Last January, China’s environmental authorities barely averted the contamination of nearly three million people’s drinking water after a mining company dumped cadmium – a toxic heavy metal used in the manufacture of batteries, paint, solder, and solar cells – into the Longjiang River. To stop the contamination from spreading, the local fire department had to add significant quantities of dissolved aluminum chloride, which binds to cadmium and settles on the river bottom. The toxic sediment will eventually be dredged.

Such threats to health and the environment are not uncommon in China. The water in as many as half of the country’s rivers and lakes is unfit for human consumption or contact.

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