Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Livestock Decree Addresses Festering Problems

China is producing and consuming more meat, eggs and milk than anyone thought possible in the early 20th century, but the industry has festering problems that intermittently blow up: babies poisoned by chemical-laced milk, avian influenza outbreaks, dead pigs floating in rivers, black streams and green lakes, and a year-long bout of sky-high meat prices after African swine fever decimated the pig herd last year.

On September 27, China's State Council released an "Opinion on Promoting Quality Development of the Livestock Industry" to ensure supplies of animal protein while addressing the industry's rising costs, growing reliance on imports, rampant disease, environmental degradation, and food safety threats. The document outlines multiple goals for the nation's livestock industry: filling the citizenry's "market basket" for food, promoting income growth for farmers and herdsmen, and contributing to rural industrialization. The document claims output has grown rapidly, but acknowledges that "quality" has not always been high. 

The Opinion has four main thrusts: 
  • develop a modern livestock industry
  • upgrade disease prevention and control
  • develop a modern processing and distribution system
  • accelerate "green circular development" 
and each thrust contains multiple components. Modern livestock industry encompasses breeding R&D, fodder and feed, mechanization, developing scale businesses, and keeping small and medium-scale farmers engaged in the industry. The "Opinion" puts priority on prevention of livestock diseases as "the first line," echoing the recent ASF epidemic, with a nod to preventing another pandemic in its call to prevent epizootic diseases that spread from animals to humans. Processing and distribution includes developing cold chain facilities and transport, upgrading slaughter and processing and moving the activity into the hinterland, incorporating information technology and record-keeping, improving the meat reserve system, and diversifying sources of meat and dairy imports and types of products imported. "Green" development entails utilizing animal waste as fertilizer for crops, detailed regional planning, and matching livestock farms with crop farms. 

The Opinion lists four sets of measures for implementation:
  • Improve the "market basket system" by encouraging urbanized provinces to set up production bases in livestock-producing provinces and by setting up interprovincial compensation systems.
  • Give livestock farms access to land, eliminating "irrational barriers" to livestock farms, easing up on restrictions on use of cropland, and encouraging livestock farms to locate on land designated for forests.
  • Strengthen subsidies such as transfer payments to livestock counties and funds for model counties, and improve financial services by encouraging banks to accept barns and animals as collateral for loans, and experiment with insurance for livestock.
  • Strengthen market intervention by issuing "precise" information to guide producers and improving the meat reserve system. 
  • Revise veterinary laws and simplify procedures for importing breeding stock.
The Opinion has many objectives that sometimes conflict with one another. The command to eliminate "irrational barriers" to livestock production is a reversal of a big program during 2013-18 that ordered local governments to delineate zones where livestock and poultry farms would be banned or limited in order to clean up pollution. Facing a severe pork shortage in 2019, officials reversed course and accused local officials of shutting down too many livestock farms.

The Opinion seems to contradict itself in some areas. The opinion designates "market guidance" as its first principle and it encourages imports, but it also sets self-sufficiency targets of 95 percent for pork, 85 percent for beef and mutton, 70 percent for dairy, and full self-sufficiency for poultry. The Opinion calls for simplifying procedures for importing breeding stock, but elsewhere it sets a goal of weaning the industry from its reliance on imported breeding stock, and in another place it calls for stricter inspection and quarantine measures at the border. It prioritizes R&D on white-feather chicken breeding, indigenization of lean-type native pig breeds, and accelerating domestic breeding of cattle and sheep. The Opinion also aims to increase self-reliance in animal fodder by boosting production of corn for silage, alfalfa, and oat hay, and it calls for finding substitutes for corn and soybeans in feed. One paragraph endorses large-scale farms and vertically-integrated processing and distribution, while another paragraph calls for engaging small and medium-scale farms.

This Opinion has almost no new ideas; it recycles ideas that were put forward in past decades and largely forgotten. Thirty-four years ago, the 1986 "Number 1 document" admonished officials to "reverse the neglect of organic fertilizer in recent years." The task of creating a "modern livestock farming industry" was part of the 2006-10 five-year plan that first launched livestock subsidies and a program to build scaled-up livestock farms--prompted by a huge avian influenza epidemic. That plan was quickly derailed by a "blue ear disease" epidemic in 2006-07, which prompted a 2007 "Opinion" on the hog industry that introduced a now-abandoned sow subsidy and launched subsidized swine insurance. 
This year's Opinion makes a promise to publish market information to help farmers make better decisions. The same pledge was made by a "hog price alert" program kicked off in 2009 that promised to publish about a dozen data items for the same purpose. Only one or two of them are still published. The agriculture ministry stopped issuing monthly changes in hog and sow inventories a year ago. Plans to overhaul chaotic animal slaughter have been launched about once a decade since the "designated slaughterhouse" system was launched in the 1980s. 

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