America Has Become China's Farm

On Monday, the USDA announced that it reached an agreement with China to give them access to U.S. grown apples. Within two years, after the logistics are in place, the U.S. will be exporting roughly 5 million bushels of apples to China. In money talk, that translates to about $100 million annually. That's a lot of dough heading towards the nation's apple growers, which is generally a good thing.

But what's troubling is that, with this move and others, the U.S. has essentially become China's farm.

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It's important to keep in mind that this is just the latest food-based tryst between the U.S. and China, with the deal almost always sending food away. While imports from China remain stagnant for the last decade at about $2 to $4 billion a year, exports from U.S. to China continue to skyrocket nearly five fold from $5 billion to $25 billion. China imports more of our food than any other country, nearly twice as much as second-place finisher Mexico.

What are we shipping exactly? Here are some numbers for you: 25 million tons of soy, 5 million tons of corn, 6 million tons of alfalfa, and nearly 60 million tons of nuts are shipped from the U.S. to China every year. On top of that is the huge shipment of pork we send across the Pacific -- nearly 150 million tons of our oinking friends.

As far as this last one goes, plenty of feathers were ruffled last year when China bought Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the U.S., marking the biggest purchase of a U.S. company by a Chinese business thus far. That got sticky for a number of reasons, including issues about the environment (China's production standards leave much to be desired). Plus, who gets all the pork when the apocalypse finally hits? And now, less than a year after that deal was signed, China is now getting enough apples to put their medical industry out of business for good. (What with the result of someone's health resting upon eating an apple a day and all.)

Here's what Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had to say about the apple deal:


Which kind of sums up the so-called "mutually-beneficial" relationship being forged. They get our food, we get their money. All fine and good if this were a grocery store. But nothing happens in a vacuum when dealing with production sizes this big.

In fact, the pork-related production issues mentioned are a microcosm of the worries associated with these massive trade agreements. While businesses are certainly excited at the prospect of another heap of dollars, that news isn't necessarily good for the rest of us. As Tom Philpott put it last year in a piece in Mother Jones entitled "Are We Becoming China's Factory Farm?":



That goes for nut production as well. And soy, and alfalfa, and corn. And yes, it goes for apples, too. Whenever you're producing food on such a massive level, there's going to be side effects. When you're talking about growing enough food for your own population as well as a country containing 1.36 billion people, well, those effects have a way of multiplying awfully quick.

California's Central Valley is in a devastating drought. The Midwest is quickly having their rich topsoil depleted. The harvesting of apples in the state of Washington (which produces most of the country's apples) already includes dangerous amounts of pesticides. America has enough to worry about as it is without drastically bumping up production numbers to make a few extra bucks.

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