Monday, December 14, 2015

China Ag Officials Call for Fewer Pigs Near Polluted Waterways

Agricultural officials in China issued instructions to cut back on the number of hogs in the parts of the heavily industrialized Pearl River delta where the number of pigs is beyond the land's carrying capacity. Local officials are urged to designate districts where pigs are banned, induce farms to properly treat waste, and utilize the waste for fertilizing crops.

The pronouncement was part of a guiding opinion on adjusting the regional layout of hog farms in five major watersheds where there are concerns that pig manure and urine are causing water pollution problems. Besides the Pearl River delta in eastern Guangdong Province, the other regions included the Yangtze River delta (Shanghai, southern Jiangsu, Zhejiang), middle Yangtze River (Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi), the Huai River region in 29 counties of Shandong and Jiangsu, and the Danjiangkou Reservoir in northern Hubei and Henan (the starting point for the south-north water transfer which has been plagued by pollution). The document was issued November 26, 2015.

Farmers Daily explains that the five regions include 133 counties that produced 97 million hogs in 2014, 13 percent of the national total. These are key hog-producing regions, but they are also important watersheds with extensive networks of rivers and lakes. Many of the hog farms fail to properly treat the waste produced by the pigs--estimated at seven times the daily waste produced by humans. Only 40 percent of the waste is utilized (for biogas, to fertilize crops and feed fish), 10 percentage points less than the national average. The waste is frequently dumped into waterways, contributing to China's serious water pollution.

The five regions generated varying degrees of concern:

  • The Pearl River region has the most serious problems. The number of pigs in the region was declared to be beyond the carrying capacity of the land. 
  • The Yangtze Delta has "not a lot of room" for further development.
  • The regions around the middle reaches of the Yangtze River are near their carrying capacity.
  • In the Danjiangkou Reservoir region, hogs are "overall in balance with the land's carrying capacity."
  • The Huai River watershed has some room for further development.

The Pearl River region is known as China's leading manufacturing hub, but it is also a major pork-producing area. The troublesome districts include 16 counties in territory that radiates out from Guangzhou and Foshan down to the coastal areas of Jiangmen and Zhuhai and the Huangpu, Dongguan, Conghua, and Zengcheng districts east of the Pearl River.

According to a report from Shenzhen's Yangcheng Daily, an investigation team from the China Livestock Industry Association visited Jiangmen and Foshan during August and found that most pollution caused by livestock came from pigs. On average, a pig generates 2.2 kg of manure and 2.9 kg of urine daily. The team found that environmental controls were generally weak. News media in the region often carried reports of dead pigs floating in waterways. It was estimated that 40-50,000 pigs die of disease in Foshan each year. Most carcasses are buried, polluting the soil, and "some" farms dump them directly in water ways. The investigation found that some farms aren't interested in paying for waste treatment facilities; the penalties cost less than the investment in equipment.

The new rectification campaign has several measures. Local authorities are urged to designate districts where hog farms will be banned, limited, or permitted. Farms should be closed or moved out of districts where they are banned. Farms will be pressured or incentivized to treat manure and use it to make methane gas and utilize the residual as organic fertilizer. It was recommended that a fund be set up to give awards or subsidies to farms that fully treat and utilize pig waste. Another proposal is to lure private investors to start businesses that will collect dried manure and distribute it as fertilizer. Officials are encouraged to formulate plans to integrate livestock and crop production. The scale of farms will be increased--presumably on the assumption that small farms are less likely to invest in manure collection and treatment.

This new push to clean up hog pollution is driven by the embarrassment of the incident of thousands of dead pigs floating in Shanghai's Huangpu River in 2013. However, the idea has been around for at least a decade. For about ten years, news media have cited Guangdong's Dongguan as a locality that banned pigs, yet it is one of the districts targeted in the latest campaign. Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province--in the Yangtze River delta--was the source of Shanghai's dead pigs, but Jiaxing had a plan exactly like the new MOA recommendation to designate districts where pig farms were banned or limited near roads, canals, rivers, and in tourist areas. Jiaxing's plan was drawn up in 2011 for the 12th five-year plan and it listed a series of previous regulations and initiatives to clean up pig pollution going back to 2002.

Environmental clean-up seems to be an iterative process in China. Officials issue orders and plans that are mostly for show and are roundly ignored by everyone until the next embarrassing incident. Then they get a little more serious until the next crisis. Eventually there are improvements but they are incremental. China does seem to be getting serious about cleaning up the pig industry. Numerous localities say they have designated pig-ban areas and shut down farms this year.

The new decree implies higher regulatory compliance costs for farms. It also implies moving hog farming further into the hinterland, thus geographically decoupling hog production from where it is consumed. Shipping pork from Sichuan to Shenzhen is probably more expensive than shipping it from North America or Europe.

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