A Chinese Cabinet official reported that about 3.33 million hectares of the country's farmland is now too polluted to grow crops.
Wang Shiyuan, vice-minister of land and resources, told a news briefing on Monday that the government is working on a long-range plan and expects to spend billions of dollars annually on cleanup efforts.
The growth of Chinese industry, overuse of farm chemicals and lax environmental enforcement have left swathes of the countryside tainted by lead, cadmium, pesticides and other toxins.
This year, inspectors found dangerous levels of cadmium, a cancer-causing metal, in rice sold in the southern city of Guangzhou. The rice was grown in Henan, a major heavy metal-producing region.