Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No More Mixing Pigs and People

A district in Hangzhou's plan to reduce the number of pigs is a bellwether of the vision for undoing the traditional intermingling of people and animals in China. Environmental awareness is one of the factors behind the change, but the result is ironically an expansion of the CAFO model, anathema to most environmentalists in western countries.

Last week, officials in Xiaoshan (萧山) announced a plan to eliminate 60 percent of the district's hogs by 2017. This will be achieved by closing down farms raising less than 5000 head and limiting the number raised on farms allowed to continue operating. Building new farms or expanding farms will be forbidden. The program's principles were stated as: "reduce quantity, raise quality; supervise the entire system; ecological security." The objective is to stabilize the number of pigs at 450,000.

As Chinese cities sprawl outward, urban enclaves of housing complexes, industrial parks and university campuses spring up alongside villages where people still raise pigs in the traditional fashion. Villages turn into exurban shantytowns where houses are rented out to migrants. Many of the stories about underground butchers and garbage-feeding of pigs reported on this blog take place in such villages on the urban fringe. More importantly, the incident of thousands of dead pigs floating in Shanghai's Songjiang River in February this year was traced back to a district of Jiaxing, another small city in Zhejiang that is also a mixture of urban sprawl, tourist areas and small-scale pig-raising.

Xiaoshan is a swathe of territory in Zhejiang Province across the Qiantang River from the urban core of Hangzhou. It was once a small city surrounded by rural villages that has been absorbed by the sprawl of Hangzhou. The Xiaoshan plan bans pig farms in four core urban sub-districts and within a technology park. It calls for reductions of 20-30-percent in drinking-water protection areas, scenic areas, a tourism district where traditional houses are preserved, and a district for school campuses.

In the future, the plan will only allow large-scale hog farms--known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) in the West. Farms outside the four inner districts that raise 5000 or more pigs will be permitted to continue, but they have to reduce their pig numbers by 14 percent by 2017. They have to control emissions of pollutants by 2015. Small-scale farms raising less than 5000 pigs will be banned throughout the district. This is based on the presumption that only large-scale farms have the resources to invest in manure-treating facilities.

Farms slated for closure will have to sign an agreement in the first half of 2014. They get compensation for each sow and boar and for buildings. Barns and buildings have to be demolished and land rehabilitated. The district authorities encourage the farms to relocate to another district or to transition to better "ecological" production methods.

Until now, the butchering and small-scale pig-raising in such places was tolerated or ignored, but the floating pig incident triggered a new effort to crack down on pigs. This is not new. Jiaxing--the origin of Shanghai's floating pigs--began issuing similar plans to reduce pig production over ten years ago, but the area still raised millions of pigs. The campaign in Xiaoshan may prove ineffective too. The long-term goal of maintaining a population of 450,000 pigs--still a lot for an urban area--shows that officials know it's unrealistic to eliminate pig farms entirely. (By comparison, Iowa--the leading hog-producing area in the U.S.--has only a handful of counties with more than 450,000 pigs.)

In big sophisticated cities like Hangzhou, officials have a vision of erasing China's rural tradition of intermingled people, animals and crops in favor of an urban society in which they are kept separate. China's new drive for urbanization is supposed to be paired with new attention to environmental regulation. The vision for livestock is to move animals into big modern farms hidden in the hinterland. If environmental regulations are enforced, the number of animals raised will have to decrease and the cost of raising them will increase.

However, officials' dream of clean cities free of pigs is undermined by the persistent underclass of rural migrants. Migrants want/need cheap food--thus creating demand for pork produced at minimum cost--and many migrants are looking for ways to make living--creating a robust supply of garbage-feeders and dead-pig butchers willing to flout regulations to make a little extra money. Moreover, China's urbanization strategy of herding rural people with no means of support into hundreds of new small cities managed by officials with little interest or experience in enforcing regulations could create even more chaotic pig-raising and butchering.

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