Monday, September 5, 2011

Dead Pigs and Hush Money?

A reporter investigates sick pigs on a farm near Guangzhou.

An October 2009 article from China’s Southern Metropolitan Daily illustrates the murky situation at the farm level with regard to services provided by veterinary officials.

A farm near Guangzhou purchased 80 pigs to raise as finishing hogs. The pigs were vaccinated against blue ear diseae (PRRS), foot and mouth disease, and classical swine fever by personnel from the township veterinary station (these vaccinations are mandatory and are to be provided free of charge).

Several months later pigs began vomiting, drooling and redness appeared on their skin, they had convulsions, and other signs of illness. The farmer asked a veterinarian to come look. He thought it was due to high fever. On October 11 the first hog died. After several days, the hogs died one after another, 40 in all. Reporters went to the farm and saw the 30 pigs left that were paralyzed and could only breathe in small gasps. Some dead pigs were among the live ones with swollen abdomens and discoloration on their skin.

The farmer again called the veterinary station but the vice-director didn’t come immediately. After another call, the vice director offered the farmer 200 yuan to bury the pigs on a hill. The farmer worried that the pigs had died from an epidemic, and urged the veterinary station to quickly send someone to look at the pigs to determine what sickness they had.

A veterinarian finally came at 6 pm. The veterinarian did not vaccinate the remaining pigs. Instead he urged the farmer to bury the dead pigs as fast as possible.

The next morning the farmer again called the veterinary station and requested that the vice director himself come. The vice director called back and said he was busy with another matter and would send two workers to help bury the pigs. The farmer argued that the pigs should be examined to determine the cause of their death before they were buried. The vice director came to the farm with some disinfectant, looked around briefly and left.

The farmer speculated that the veterinary station was worried that the farmer would demand compensation for ineffective vaccines.

The following day, an official from the township’s communist party committee came to offer the farmer 3000 yuan. There was a difference of opinion over what this 3000 yuan represented. The farmer thought it represented hush money to prevent him from publicizing the incident. The farmer’s son said that the township official’s “attitude suddenly changed”--prompting the 3000-yuan offer--when he was told a reporter was on the way to expose the incident. The township official insisted the 3000 yuan was not compensation, but was rather “sympathy money” for the farmer.

The official said the township’s emergency plan calls for burying dead pigs as fast as possible to prevent spread of the disease. He said the farmer wouldn’t let them come on the farm, so they paid him money to bury to dead pigs. When the reporter asked the official whether he had the power to offer such funds to a farmer the official did not answer.

As always, there are two sides to every story, and this one reveals that disease control in Chinese agriculture is quite complicated. Vaccines are not a guarantee that animals will be free of disease. Should dead animals be buried as soon as possible or should they be examined to determine the cause of death? Farmers face substantial losses from disease. The farmer in this story said he invested 40,000 yuan to buy the 80 pigs. The temptation to sell the dead pigs to a butcher rather than bury them is strong. Why didn’t the veterinarians come when called? Did the farmer misinterpret the veterinarians’ actions?

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