Friday, January 7, 2011

Our Pigs Do Aerobics

An article in the Xian Daily promotes the opening of a new specialty shop selling "luxury" pork at 60 yuan per jin, roughly five times the price of common pork. This article appears to be an advertisement masquerading as journalism, but the shop's existence indicates an emerging demand for premium-priced niche products that have perceived health benefits.

The meat comes from a special local breed of pig called "guan zhong black pig." As you might guess, its hair is black. The black hair is said to make the pig's meat more healthy by helping it absorb more sunshine, ultraviolet rays, and keeping them warm. A "Healthy Farm"'s web site announcing its acquisition of black pigs says they are hybrids that feature fast growth, disease resistance, healthy meat, and a feed conversion rate of 2.8:1.

Guanzhong Black Pigs frolic in the grass near Xi'an

The "ecological livestock" company supplying this pork practices what might be called extreme animal welfare in the way they raise the pigs. The reporter describes rows of blue-roofed barns with a "stadium" on the hill where pigs "do aerobics" under the tutelage of human "coaches" who are required to spend a minimum amount of time (20 seconds?!) with each pig daily. The company requires pigs to listen to music after eating and get plenty of exercise. Staff distribute "toys" to the pigs for them to play with to keep them in a good mood. They frolic in the barns or in grassy areas, chasing each other around.

This contrasts sharply with usual methods--conventional farmers have been known to give their pigs sleeping pills to prevent them from burning calories and make them gain weight faster.

The farm has a 40-mu plot of alfalfa to feed the pigs. They raise them to slaughter weight in 10 months or more (2-to-3 times longer than common hogs), "strictly using natural techniques."

The meat is purported to be healthier than common pork. It has more intramuscular fat, unsaturated fatty acids, and moisture. The meat is said to have fewer toxins due to the pigs' greater absorption of sunlight. It is supposed to be easier to digest and it keeps better when frozen. (Maybe the meat is healthy, but visiting the company's web site will give you a virus!)

The new shop's opening on January 6 attracted many customers who listened to the salesperson's explanation of the "black pig" pork's benefits. They were impressed with the red color and tenderness of the pork. They were enthusiastic about the pork despite its high price.

The black pigs are part of a growing niche for pork from local breeds. Another article cites the rapid growth of 土猪 (tu zhu, literally "soil pig") local breeds. The article reports that production has been growing in areas like Chongqing, where the local Rongchang breed is being promoted. It identifies Guangdong and Shanghai as places where sales are growing. Shanghai launched a plan last month to promote breeding of local pigs and a company in Guangdong promoting local pigs recently had an initial public offering of stock. Also, see a post about wild pigs in Gansu from last January.

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