Tue, Apr 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Dead pigs in Shanghai river highlight issue of safe water supply

By Nicola Davison  /  The Guardian, JIAXING, China

“We have seven dead pig processing plants. Each is 100 cubic meters large and can gather thousands of dead pigs,” Zhulin Chinese Communist Party secretary Chen Yuanhua said.

According to a 2011 report by the Zhejiang Province Environmental Protection Bureau, 7.7 million pigs are raised in Jiaxing. With a mortality rate of between 2 percent and 4 percent, up to 300,000 carcasses need to be disposed of each year.

“We have some difficulties with the growing number of pig farms and a lack of funding, and land to build more plants,” Chen said.

He conceded that some farmers throw dead pigs into the rivers “for convenience.”

There could be another, murkier, reason behind the pig manifestation.

On March 23, the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) exposed how illegally processed pigs have been making their way into markets for years. While farmers are required by law to send animals that die of disease or natural causes to processing pits, black market dealers intercept the chain, butchering the hogs to sell as pork. In November last year, a Jiaxing court sentenced three such butchers to life in prison for processing 77,000 carcasses, making an almost 9 million yuan profit.

Due to the crackdown, black market traders have stopped buying the dead stock and farmers have resorted to dumping. Pan Huimin, a Zhulin resident who is in custody on suspicion of dealing in dead pigs, told CCTV that there was “a 100 percent” correlation between his arrest and the dead pigs incident.

News of this illicit meat trade does not faze the residents of the Jingxiang fishing commune, a few kilometers from Zhulin — the trade is considered not ideal, but normal. Inside the common room, bare lightbulbs illuminate a poster of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) on the wall, as a group of elderly residents play mahjong in the corner. There used to be 250 fishermen in the commune, but because of the rampant pollution, the 60 fishermen left mainly clean rivers.

One resident, Mr Li (李), said his community has been complaining about the pollution since 2003.

“Things changed in the early 2000s, when more pig farms turned up and their wastewater, manure and carcasses poured into the river,” he said. “Though we’ve been petitioning for years, rather than [seeing] an improvement, the situation has deteriorated. The local government’s slow response always pass the buck.”

Such negligence exacerbates the serious water quality issues China faces. Greenpeace East Asia estimates that 320 million people in the country do not have access to clean drinking water. A 2011 study by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection found that of 118 cities, 64 had “seriously contaminated” groundwater supplies.

Yang Hanchun, of the Chinese Association of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, said that China has comprehensive laws for the protection of the environment against animal husbandry, but authorities often fail to uphold them.

Over the weeks since the discovery of the pig carcasses in Shanghai’s water supply, authorities have consistently worked to quell public outcry, reiterating that drinking water is safe. While there have been reports and discussion of the incident in state media and on the country’s rollicking microblog network — which is curtailed by censors — attempts to organize protests have been swiftly quashed.

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