Sunday, May 15, 2022

China Meat Prices Low, Farm Demolition Resumes

Chinese officials are demolishing livestock farms again now that a meat shortage has turned to glut.

In April 2022 China's central disciplinary commission posted an article warning village and town officials they could be reprimanded or fired for complicity in illegal use of farmland. Two of four cases of illegal use of cropland from Anhui Province circulated by the commission were cases of illegal hog farms built in 2020 when the government was pushing local officials to expand hog production as fast as possible to alleviate a pork shortage. 

One illegal Anhui hog farm was built by a village official in July 2020 on 1.93 mu (less than a third of an acre) of land. The official continued building the farm after receiving a warning that the project did not comply with the local land use plan. The official was reprimanded and removed from his post for ignoring warnings despite being responsible for enforcement of local land use regulations.

In another village, the party secretary built a hog farm on 5.56 mu (less than an acre) in June 2020. Most of the land was designated as "permanent basic farmland." Seven months later the municipal natural resources planning bureau notified him that the farm was an illegal land use and fined him RMB 91,000 (about $13,300).  In March 2022, the official was severely reprimanded and removed from his post as village party secretary. 

Farm demolition in Fujian Province: before, during and after.

Another compendium of official news media reports about demolitions of poultry and pig farms has also been circulated online. On April 28, over 100 officials gathered on the banks of Gupi Canal in Fujian Province's Bangtou Town to supervision the demolition of 97 illegal "backyard" duck and poultry farms dumping waste into the canal. In Fujian's Gutian County the Peoples Court ruled that it was OK to destroy illegal livestock farms and forestry projects. In March 2022, 30 teams of officials destroyed four pig barns and 16 chicken and duck sheds. That same month in Yuanzhuang Town citizens were offered rewards for reporting illegal livestock farms; the reward is proportional to the size of the farm reported.

In Jiangxi Province's Jinggangshan City, citizens posted an online complaint about a pig farm with two barns constructed on "wasteland" at the base of a mountain. The farm had a manure collection tank, methane gas digester, and did not emit waste, but it was nevertheless slated for demolition because one barn was not compliant. 

Some districts in Shandong Province's Tengzhou City decided to ban duck farms, and village party secretaries are threatened with dismissal if any duck farms are built in their villages. 

Officials in Xigang Town in Shandong discuss their plans to ban duck farms.

These articles reflect the conflicting goals of supplying meat, preserving cropland, and keeping the environment clean. In whack-a-mole style, environmental regulations are enforced when meat supplies are abundant, but enforcement eases up when meat supplies are tight.

In 2010 the Ministry of Environmental Protection claimed its pollution census showed livestock farms were the top emitters of water pollutants. In January 2013, a national plan to clean up livestock farm pollution was released. Then a month later, a mysterious horde of dead pigs floated into Shanghai's Huangpu River. The pigs allegedly came from upstream in Jiaxing, in Zhejiang Province, where local officials managed to launch a campaign to replace backyard piggeries with large-scale farms within a month after the incident. The Jiaxing campaign was quickly replicated nationwide.

An aggressive environmental rectification campaign urged local officials to designate districts where livestock and poultry farms were banned or partially banned. The Ministry of Environmental Protection boasted of demolishing hundreds of thousands of livestock and poultry farms. The Agriculture Ministry launched a grand plan to move livestock farms out of southeastern provinces and city outskirts to the northern and western hinterlands.

According to one estimate at the high-tide of the livestock farm demolition movement in 2017, the enforcement of environmental-driven farm demolitions had reduced China's national swine inventory by 36 million head and was credited with a "transformational upgrade" of the swine industry as it mainly eliminated "backyard" livestock and poultry farms that have no waste collection or treatment facilities. 

Another 2017 commentary described the environmental campaign as handing small farms a death sentence, but also observed that large-scale environmentally compliant farms used a lot of land and had higher costs due to the expenses of installing and operating manure collection and treatment facilities. New Hope-Liuhe, one of China's biggest feed and livestock companies, estimated that investment and operating costs of environmental facilities increased the cost of a weaned pig by 16 percent.

An African swine fever epidemic began in 2018 and swept through the entire country within a year, reducing the swine herd by at least 25 percent. To alleviate a meat shortage, local officials were ordered to rush through land-use applications for new pig farms and ease up on environmental assessments. Officials were criticized for being overzealous in banning livestock farms in districts near residential areas, bodies of water, scenic areas, major transportation routes, and food markets. In March 2020, the environment ministry announced simpler environmental registrations for pig farms and an easing up on local pig farm bans.

The recent articles in 2022 appear to be a message to local officials that they should resume crackdowns on environmental and land-use violations by "backyard" livestock farms.

Hog prices fell more than 50 percent last year as pork production rebounded "faster then expected," according to China agriculture ministry. In 2021, all but one of the major swine-producing companies lost money. In the first quarter of 2022, five top swine-farming companies lost a combined RMB 14.9 billion (about $2.2 billion) and nine poultry companies reported losses of RMB 854 million (about $125 million). Time to start cracking down on those backyard farmers again.

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