Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tracing Dead Pigs to the Source

Shanghai and Jiaxing Prefecture officials have been jointly trying to use information on dead pigs' ear tags to trace floating pigs back to their original owners. The vice mayor of Jiaxing says that 8 have been traced to their farmers who have been slapped with penalties of 3,000 yuan ($475).

Reporters have been snooping around Jiaxing and finding out about where dead pigs came from. In 2010 Jiaxing authorities built pig-disposal pits in every village. These are large cement tanks that break down pig carcasses using anaerobic fermentation. Each one holds about 40 metric tons of pig carcasses.

Pigs are heavy and it's troublesome to transport them to a disposal site. Farmers had to pay someone 80 yuan ($13) to haul a dead pig away, so it was cheaper and easier to put the pigs in a bag and dump them on a creek bank or by the side of a road late at night. One person said that if you drive on the expressway from Hangzhou to Shanghai with your car windows down you can smell the rotting carcasses.

"Dead Livestock and Poultry May Not Be Discarded Along the Road"

Over the past nine days Jiaxing officials have been conducting a big dead pig clean-up. As of March 17, they had collected 4,664 carcasses (these are in addition to the 9,460 dead pigs picked up downriver in Shanghai). An official estimates that the number of new carcasses will gradually decrease.

A reporter visiting villages was greeted by the smell of manure and saw several decomposed pigs floating under a bridge. A villager encountered on the street volunteered that he had just thrown a dead pig out his back door into the canal.

On March 13, a reporter sat in on a meeting in Xinfeng Town where a town official said the dead pig problem was an open secret. The official blamed village and town officials for allowing the behavior to go on. He said town and village leaders live next door to people raising pigs, so how can they not know when their neighbors are throwing pigs in the canals? Another official said villagers throw the pigs away late at night when no one sees them.
Dead pigs under a bridge.

Bamboo village has 7 pig-disposal pits that have been built over six years, but they're mostly full. Mr. Gao, who is in charge of collecting dead pigs, has been busy during the past week. The reporter saw him collect 20 dead pigs to take to the disposal pit on his tricycle in an hour. By one estimate they have been collecting 60 to 100 a day. One farmer in the village said 100 pigs a day have been dying but the village committee only reports 30 to the town government.

The pig pollution problem has been around for some time. Bamboo village in Xinfeng Town has been a major pig-producing area for 20 years.There are 140,000 pigs and it supplies pork to Hong Kong. As production expanded, environmental problems became more and more serious. Pollution comes from manure and dead pigs.
Dead pigs collected on a cart.

Although they acknowledged that the number of dead pigs had been higher than usual lately, people interviewed by a reporter denied there was any disease epidemic. The cause of the pig deaths was "a closely guarded secret in the village."

One of the reasons for the large number of pigs in the water is that authorities cracked down on an illegal trading-butchering network that sold meat from dead pigs in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The business was estimated to be worth 1 million yuan.

Local authorities have raised concerns about the high density of pigs in Jiaxing. In September 2012 authorities issued a plan to ban or limit the number of hogs in parts of Jiaxing's South Lake district. The plan cited 13 different regulatory and guidance documents, including documents from ten years earlier aimed at addressing pollution created by pigs. One of the principles in the document is "protecting the legal interests and rights of the public and the ecological environment." The plan called for banning pig production in tourism areas, and within 100 to 300 meters of various types of canals and highways. The Jiaxing five-year plan calls for reducing the number of pigs in the prefecture from 7.5 million to 2 million.

Bamboo village is in the area where pigs are to be banned, but pigs are the main source of income in the village. According to the document, farms are supposed to close or move by the end of 2013. One farmer interviewed by a reporter said he had not considered reducing the size of his operation. He acknowledged that the high density of pigs affects the environment, but he has built a lot of barns for pigs and if he doesn't raise them he makes no money.

1 comment:

Michael said...

A surprisingly candid analysis of the issues of waste disposal in hog production and the complete government dysfunction which prevents immediate resolution of the contributing factors actually came out in English in the China Daily a few days ago:


Its extremely rare for such a critical article to come out int he Chinese press at all, and I think its presence shows how significant this issue has been in revealing some of the more subtle points of Chinese governance and the recent transition. Other articles in Chinese publications (including in the People’s Daily) have pointed to sub-themes mentioned in the above article, but none so thoroughly, and an equivalent article did not come out in the China Daily’s Chinese edition. This leads me to believe that this is an opinion that is popular amongst the central policy-makers, but which they want to remain isolated to elite circles. The fact of the matter is that this issue is a rare instance where a bald failure of governance did not result in human deaths, was not a product of official corruption and could be addressed by an (already planned) reorganization of the relevant government organs and consolidation of production facilities. As David Barboza’s piece in the NYTimes says, the incident can even be spun as a positive step in food safety management as he explained that the dead pigs were at least floating in people’s drinking water and not in their dumpling soup.

The fact that the incident (admittedly, hard to hide) ran non-stop in the Chinese media throughout the entire second half of the NPC and that the Ag Vice-Minister addressed it outright is probably proof that the central government wanted to keep this issue on the public radar for some political end, maybe to emphasize the need for government restructuring or to distract from another potentially embarrassing issue. The inter-provincial nature of the problem also probably requires the central government to be involved in its resolution to some degree as Shanghai is trying to push Jiaxing as the source for all the pigs, Zhejiang is denying they are the source of all the pigs and the MOA investigator is saying that it is impossible to determine the source of all the pigs. Clearly, 13,000 floating hog carcasses is a political football which nobody wants to own, so maybe there is also an element here where a candid look at structural failures in regulation is something on which all politically-relevant parties can agree.

Mike Pareles