Notes from New Zealand: China’s Investment in NZ Agriculture and a Bumper Crop for Grapes

CLF Director Robert S. Lawrence, MD, is on sabbatical in Auckland, New Zealand, where he is studying the country’s agriculture system.

As we waited in the Sydney airport for our connecting flight to Auckland, I picked up a copy of The Australian, one of the major newspapers in Australia, and noted an article titled, “China hungry for local food assets.” The article noted that China was preparing a multi-billion dollar investment campaign to acquire Australian agricultural lands to provide farm produce over the next five years. My thoughts went racing back to Lester Brown’s Who Will Feed China: Wake-up Call for a Small Planet, published in 1995 and arguably the single most important book in shaping the strategies of the early years of the Center for a Livable Future. Brown exposed the myth of Chinese grain self-sufficiency and predicted that China would soon become a major food importing country as water resources were depleted or diverted to the booming industrial sector; rising standards of living would shift dietary choices to a higher meat, western diet; and increasing amounts of grain would be diverted from direct human consumption to animal feed.

Grape VineyardThe Australian reported that in the last six months there has been a dramatic increase in the interest of Chinese buyers in purchase of segments of the agricultural sector “with the sweet spot being in ‘under the radar’ private farms, aggregation and processing businesses worth between $10 million and $200m.” Why this range of enterprise? Because under Australian law the Foreign Investment Review Board is limited to investigating sale of businesses to foreign enterprises that are worth more than $231 million. So a partial answer to Lester Brown’s question of who will feed China is a loose consortium of Australian agricultural resources, each valued at less than $231 million.

The Chinese buyers are showing particular interest in grain, meat, and wool opportunities. To date the majority of China’s investments in Australia’s agricultural sector have been less than $10 million with examples cited of dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, and Tasmanian spring water. But China’s appetite is growing with reports of one Chinese company looking for 5000 hectares (about 12,500 acres) of grain production land, worth about $75 million on the current Australian market.

The government of Australia has responded by launching a parliamentary inquiry into foreign ownership of Australian agriculture, all reminiscent of Russia’s decision last summer to ban export of wheat after their record-setting drought, India’s restrictions of rice exports in 2008, and other signs of countries protecting their domestic supplies while remaining a player in the global food market. Read More >

CDC responds to CLF on antibiotic resistance testimony

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirms that the CDC “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” Frieden offered the CDC’s position in his response to a letter from Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director. Lawrence and Nachman sent the letter to Frieden and Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, last June seeking to clarify Congressional testimony concerning the evidence against the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production.

Frieden noted the multiple North American studies that show the links between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. “In addition,” he said, “a strong body of evidence from Europe demonstrates that antibiotic use in animals is linked with antibiotic resistance in humans. We have thoroughly reviewed these studies and have found them to be well-designed and rigorous, and to establish a clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”

Lawrence and Nachman commended the position officially stated by the CDC. “We are gratified that the CDC recognizes the scientific connections between the inappropriate and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and antibiotic resistance in humans, and pledge to continue to work closely with the agency, regulators, and policymakers to address the problem. A number of studies supported by the CLF and by others clearly establish the direct causal link between use of low dose antibiotics in feed or water for growth promotion and the emergence of ever-more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that are important human pathogens.” Legislation on a bill to limit antibiotic use in food animal production, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, is now pending in Congress.