Chinese surgeon in trouble over Antarctic vegetables
A Chinese surgeon, who grew vegetables in Antarctica while taking part in an official expedition to the South Pole, has been accused of violating the Antarctic Treaty. Wang Zheng said he had grown vegetables by applying soil-less culture technology, computer control and automatic irrigation at the Zhongshan research base. Chinese media defended Zheng saying hydroponic soil-less technology does not violate the treaty.
Since the 1990s, several countries including Australia at their Mawson station, USA at their McMurdo station and China at the Zhongshen station have experimented with new agricultural technologies to grow vegetables including carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce.
The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1961, regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth's only continent without a native human population. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed October 4, 1991. It prohibits soil based growth of plants in Antarctica due to the possibility of microbial contamination of the untouched Antarctic ecosystem from new plants or external viruses.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, also called the Madrid Protocol, specifically states that plants are allowed to be grown in controlled soil-less conditions at research bases in Antarctica.
In one of the first instances of large scale production of food in Antarctica, scientists at the US McMurdo research stations greenhouse, grew lettuce, mint and tomatoes. The vegetables and herbs were grown under soil-less hydroponic conditions to avoid contaminating the environment with external microbes. The development was an important step towards improving the nutritional intake of researchers on the continent.
A Chinese scientist, on a research expedition to Antarctica harvested vegetables that were grown in soil-less artificially controlled environment at the Zhongshan research station. This was the first time lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes have been grown at the Chinese base in Antarctica. Before the harvest, members of the expedition team had to rely on cargo vessels to ferry meat and canned food products.