China has a large agricultural workforce and diverse landscapes and climates suitable for growing and producing different types of food. It grows fruits, vegetables and grains for domestic consumption and for world markets. Fish and shellfish are other major exports.
China’s Agricultural Industry
Industry in China is dominated by the service and industry sectors while its agricultural sector generates just over 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. However, considering that according to the 2008 CIA World Factbook, China is the second largest economy in the world (after the United States) with a workforce of over 800 million, 43 percent of which is employed in agriculture, the industry is both sizeable and dominant in world markets.
Geographical and Environmental Factors
With a large landmass and diverse climates from tropical to subarctic, China is able to grow a wide variety of foods. Almost 15 percent of China is arable land, but the agricultural industry faces many environmental challenges that are gradually diminishing the amount of land available for growing food. Since 1949, China has lost an estimated one-fifth of its agricultural land due to soil erosion and desertification. Economic developments and the gradual urbanization of the populace are additional factors.
What is Grown?
China’s biggest crops in terms of volume and value are rice, vegetables (including sweet potatoes, garlic, cabbage and spinach), fruits (including melons, apples, peaches and pears), maize and wheat, tea and groundnuts. Other major food products are cow’s milk and hen’s eggs. China consistently ranks as the world’s number one producer of many food products. China grows the most apples, asparagus, buckwheat, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, ginger, potatoes, paddy rice, tea and tomatoes in the world, among at least 45 other commodities.
U.S. Imports From China
China is one of the United States's biggest food suppliers. In 2008, China became the third largest source for agricultural and seafood imports, with an increase in imports from around $1 billion in 1997 to almost $5 billion in 2007. During this period the United States imported increasing volumes of mainly seafood, wine and beer, fruit juices, coffee, snack foods and live animals. Some agricultural imports from China are used for pet food and animal feed rather than human consumption.
Food Safety Concerns
The large volume of food imports from China has caused some governments and consumers to raise concerns about the safety of that food. In 2008, following recalls of imported pet food and milk formula products, the U.S. Congress investigated and addressed the issue. A memorandum of agreement between the Chinese and United States governments was signed in 2007. China declared a commitment to undertake steps to improve the safety of its food exports, including revising regulations and inspections. The United States announced measures to expand cooperation with China regarding food safety issues and to station officials in China for the purpose of food safety oversight.