Monday, May 30, 2016

Environmental Laws Ban Pig Farms in China

Officials in China are pushing ahead with a nationwide campaign to shut down pig farms in populated and environmentally-sensitive areas. The shut-down plan appears to be cutting pig numbers at a time when a short supply of pork is causing prices to soar.
"arrest warrant" for a pig satirizes the campaign to close or move pig farms. source: toutiao.com

A series of laws and regulations issued by Chinese officials over the last two years appear to signal a new era in which pigs will be physically segregated from the human population, a major undertaking in a society where the species have lived together for thousands of years.
  • Local bans on pig farms began in 2013 following the embarrassment caused by thousands of swine carcasses that floated down the river into Shanghai. 
  • In January 2014, regulations were issued to prevent pollution from waste emissions of "scale" livestock and poultry farms; the regulations called for designating areas where livestock and poultry farms are banned and assessing penalties on violators. 
  • In January 2015, a new PRC environmental protection law called for "circular use of resources," coordination between environmental protection and economic development, and closing or moving livestock and poultry farms that pollute the environment.
  • An April 2015 water pollution prevention action plan specifically requires local officials to "scientifically" designate regions where livestock and poultry farms are banned. Farms in the ban districts must close or move by 2017. The plans must be completed within a year in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Yangzi River Delta, Pearl River Delta.
  • On May 18, 2016, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection issued technical guidance giving local authorities criteria for designating the livestock-ban districts.
China's regulations are intended to address problems with water pollution and odor caused by dumping animal waste into streams, canals, rivers, and lakes. Dumping dead animals is another concern.
Drainage pipe from a Chinese pig farm.
Livestock and poultry farms are to be banned in places that are:
  • near sources of drinking water
  • scenic areas
  • natural resource conservation areas
  • near concentrated human population like residential areas of cities and towns, schools and hospitals
(Local regulations usually ban pig farms near markets and highways, as well.) The bans apply to pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep, ducks, geese, deer, foxes, mink, ostrich, and camels, but most of the emphasis is on pig farms.

The campaign against livestock farms reflects new attention to environmental improvements and balancing economic development with quality of life. These objectives have been given lip service for years but are getting a personal push from President Xi Jinping. The campaign also reflects the "supply-side" reform initiative and a new European-type approach to rural development--in place of a trash-strewn dilapidated countryside, they hope to create a place of bucolic scenery populated by happy farmers.

Local officials have been ordered to formulate plans for designating three types of zones:
  • areas where livestock and poultry farms are banned;
  • areas where such farms are limited;
  • areas that are appropriate for livestock and poultry farming.
The bans apply to "scale" farms and livestock-raising communities. The threshold for swine farms is typically 500-head sold annually (but Chongqing set a lower threshold of 300 head) or 10,000 laying chickens. It does not appear to apply to "backyard" animal-raising.

Some localities give compensation to owners of destroyed farms. There are also penalties for farmers who continue operating in areas where they are banned. One article posted on a pig industry site warns farmers, "This is a real government thing!" and listed six cases of people who have been arrested and jailed 5 to 10 days for operating pig farms illegally.

Livestock farms allowed to continue operating are expected to acquire equipment and facilities to collect and treat waste from their animals. The slurry from the treatment is to be used as fertilizer on crops. Authorities are also setting goals for raising the percentage of waste treated and the proportion utilized.
Tearing down a pig farm. source: weixin rejiao.

Localities throughout China are various stages in formulating these plans. Some 10 provinces have formulated timetables for implementing the bans with varying degrees of specificity. As of May 2016, 150 counties had formulated livestock-ban districts, and some have already destroyed farms. Several regions are targeted for special attention: the Yangzi and Pearl River watersheds and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei corridor in northern China.

Map shows localities that have made plans to close or move livestock farms by 2016 or 2017.

Zhejiang Province--the source of the dead pigs that floated into Shanghai in 2013--has been the most aggressive in setting up pig-ban zones. In 2014 they launched plans to close or move 69,597 pig farms that reportedly produced 4.9 million head annually. Anhui Province ordered cities and counties to submit plans for livestock-ban zones by June 2016 and complete closure or moving of farms by the end of 2017. Fujian Province reportedly closed 13,000 pig farms in the second half of 2015. Beijing municipality will ban new construction or expansion of pig farms in its ban-zones, except for breeding and research farms.

A Peoples Daily reporter said netizens alerted him to filthy conditions on pig farms along the Yellow River outside Henan's provincial capital of Zhengzhou earlier this month. Neighbors complained about the smell and flies from one farm set up four or five years ago. The boss of the farm said the 6000 pigs are fed exclusively on restaurant waste because it's cheaper than grain and other feed (using restaurant waste is illegal unless it has been properly treated at high temperature). Plastic garbage bags, plastic bottles, and cans floated in black water outside the farm. The town government told the reporter they were aware of the farm and had issued a verbal order to close or move with a threat to destroy it if the operator fails to comply.

Nasty farm near the Yellow River got a verbal notice of closure.

Trash in water outside the farm.

This doesn't mean that China has given up on raising livestock. The vision of officials is to move animals away from human population and environmentally-sensitive areas and concentrate them in large enclosed farms in the hinterland. The recent five-year plan for the hog industry acknowledged the growing environmental pressure, called for coordination between development and environment, and envisioned stable or modest growth in production capacity by 2020. According to the plan, hog production will become more concentrated in regions with a comparative advantage, but only to the extent that the environmental carrying capacity allows.

Jimo City in eastern Shandong just announced the opening of a 76-million-yuan ($12 million) "smart" automated chicken farm with 300,000 hens and broilers that will be managed by a single worker and will emit no pollution. The poultry litter is collected by automated equipment and used to generate heat. The reporter remarked that he saw no poultry waste and there was no smell around the farm. Local officials said other farms in the area will also automate, creating a new-type non-polluting industry chain. Local officials have designated areas where livestock will be banned, limited, or allowed as suitable. There was been 450 million yuan in investment in poultry farm waste treatment. This, however, is a "model district" which probably means the investment is highly subsidized.


Pig Progress magazine recently described a huge Danish pig farm in Jiangsu Province that has taken measures to insulate its pigs as much as possible from the surrounding country. The farm's sows are imported with purely Danish genetics. The farm is located on a strip of land that juts out into the ocean with no other livestock and few other people nearby. Workers have to stay on the farm for three weeks at a time; they are served good food and given extended time off to prevent them from being tempted to come and go while at work on the farm.

It is hard to tell how much this campaign has contributed to the shrinking numbers of pigs over the last two years. It almost certainly is constraining expansion during a period of record-high pork prices. The Chinese government rolled out pig farm subsidies during similar spikes in pork prices during 2007-08 and 2011. This time subsidies are limited to "model" farms and government propaganda is focused on shutting down pig farms instead of expanding them.

Comments on an article about pig bans posted on an industry web site reveal the complexity of the issue. A few comments supported the program but other reactions reveal the cynicism that has taken root in the Chinese population:

"Get ready for high pork prices."
"Environment is just an excuse, monpoly is the real [objective]."
"Building a hog farm is not easy; if someone came to tear down my farm, I would die miserably."
"Water pollution is because of industry, not farms; air pollution is because so many people drive cars."
"Pig manure is really a problem created by the feed industry."
"Pig farms destroyed, land rented out, what are the common people supposed to do?"
"These departments just like to boss people around! There are so many big polluters that aren't checked! You live off the public, but we farmers have a hard time making money! You build so many houses, but can't turn equipment into money! You can bankrupt us with a single piece of paper!"
"There are two sides to every issue; it's hard to say what's right and wrong."
"Before the country is a hundred years old, people will be eating each other."



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