Beijing to Ban Barbecue in Bid to Clear Smog

china-beijing-barbecue-feb2013.jpg A hawker barbecues lamb kebabs at his stall on the Wangfujing shopping street in Beijing, Feb. 21, 2013.

Authorities in China are considering a ban on barbecues in densely populated urban areas in a bid to clear the eye-watering smog plaguing the nation's capital, but environmentalists say the move will have little impact on the haze.

The draft rules were announced earlier this month by the ministry of environmental protection in Beijing, in a bid to garner public feedback and call on major cities to adopt legislation banning barbecue-related activities.

Officials told state media this week that the measures are aimed at reducing the amount of the most dangerous PM 2.5 particles in the air, fine particulate matter that has been linked to respiratory and other disease.

Doubtful impact

Residents of northern China, particularly Beijing and Tianjin, have been reeling under a long cloud of choking smog in recent weeks.

Now, they are being asked to give up grilling meat outdoors, a popular leisure pastime.

Henan-based environmental activist Huo Daishan said barbecues were unlikely to have made much contribution to the haze, however.

"This activity isn't a recent thing; it's been going on for a very long time," Huo said. "There's no way that this can be a major factor in the very serious smog that we're seeing now."

"There are also problems with implementing [the measures]."

Netizens also greeted the proposal with scorn.

"If big bad Sinopec has already admitted that there are problems with the oil, then aren't those guys who run roadside barbecue stalls small fry?" wrote user @weifanggonganmajiangtao on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

User @Lliangni suggested an alternative cure for the smog, imitating the language used in the ministry's draft regulation: "There should be strict controls on all speeches given by senior leaders and officials, so as to limit the amount of hot air that is given off."

'Joke' proposal

Meanwhile, Zhejiang-based rights activist Wu Bin, known online by his nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said via Sina Weibo: "This proposal is a joke, because the smog is caused by pollution from companies."

"Barbecues have become a scapegoat for environmental officials who aren't doing their jobs properly," Wu wrote.

"The relevant departments, meanwhile, sit in their offices, sipping tea and reading the newspaper, producing this nonsense proposal, which isn't based on reality."

Huo said the government was taking the wrong approach with a clampdown on outdoor grilling.

"You can't mistake subsidiary causes for main causes," he said, calling on China's enterprises to clean up their act.

"In our experience, when enterprises get cleaner, it has an effect on the green economy."

But he added: "You can't solve the problem of air pollution just by imposing controls; the whole of society has to work towards it."

Smog levels off the charts

Northern China has seen some of its worst-ever air pollution since the beginning of this year, with PM 2.5 readings reaching "hazardous" or off-the-scale levels on a number of occasions in different cities.

At one point in January, the smog stretched around 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) to the southwest, prompting flight cancellations, highway closures, and an end to sporting activities, as patients seeking help for respiratory problems clogged hospitals.

Across China, people in the worst-hit areas have been advised to "avoid outdoor activities and, if they do have to go out, to wear a protective mask."

Sales of face masks, as well as indoor air filters and purifiers, have skyrocketed as local residents try to avoid breathing the smog.

Even China's tightly controlled official media has given top billing to the smog, with editorials calling for tougher measures to protect air quality.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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