US pork products are to enter the Taiwanese market next year and domestic pig farmers are expected to be hit hard. To help alleviate the impact, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has announced the establishment of a NT$10 billion (US$342.96 million) fund to aid the nation’s pig farming industry.
The council has said that the fund would mainly be used to improve pens, wastewater processing facilities, slaughtering equipment and meat product logistics.
If the fund is to be equally distributed to all 7,000 registered hog farmers in the nation, then NT$10 billion would be far too little.
Known for their high quality, Taiwanese pork products are highly appealing to domestic customers, to the extent that the industry is unafraid of competing with US pork imports.
Moreover, Taiwan’s success at eradicating foot-and-mouth disease has allowed it to resume exporting fresh pork products.
From this perspective, domestic pork products are generally strong and globally competitive.
However, certain internal management difficulties must still be solved in the pig farming industry. The government should focus on addressing the industry’s overall structural problems and help pig farmers overcome obstacles, many of which can be more effectively tackled through legal amendments and policy implementation rather than simply giving out subsidies.
The first structural problem is the issue of environmental protection.
To be fair, the majority of hog farmers have worked hard to improve their wastewater processing facilities. Yet the greatest problem comes from the sludge produced by wastewater treatment systems during the sedimentation of the purifying process.
Sludge management is as important as wastewater treatment. The best way to deal with sludge — including that which is produced by meat processing factories and pig farms — is to turn the waste into compost.
Due to the limited capacity of composting plants, the costs keep soaring, and difficulties continue to mount, because setting up new plants requires repurposing land usage rights and negotiating with locals.
The organic sludge processing business is exclusively run by influential local figures.
The industry would greatly benefit from the government constructing large-scale and centralized organic sludge processing plants and helping to establish marketing channels for the end products — organic compost.
Due to the government’s policies to push for green energy, many hog farmers have set up anaerobic fermentation systems for biogas electricity generation.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Administration has also amended the Water Pollution Control Act (水污染防治法) so that biogas residues and slurry produced by wastewater treatment can be reused on agricultural land.
The real difficulty is to make both ends meet in terms of the efficiency of biogas electricity generation. Unless pig farmers can produce enough biogas, they are unlikely to achieve greater economies of scale with pig manure and urine alone, and must resort to adding food waste or agricultural waste for cofermentation.
However, the regulations lag behind for the cofermentation of pig manure with agricultural waste.
Black pigs are the most competitive breed in Taiwan due to their high quality pork. Given their low feed conversion and growth rate, commercial feed pushes up costs. As a result, farmers had resorted to using food waste to feed black pigs, but the practice is banned to prevent African swine fever infection.
This is a shame.
The government could kill two birds with one stone by imposing strict controls over the conditions for reusing kitchen waste as pig feed and by setting up centralized factories to process kitchen waste. By doing so, the issues of pig farming costs and kitchen waste could be solved together.
If the government is so confident in imposing strict controls over the flow of US pork products and demanding proper labeling, the management of the conversion of kitchen waste to pig feed should not pose much of a problem.
The pig farming industry is closely related to food, feed, fertilizer and energy sectors, and it is the core of the circular agricultural economy. It takes negotiation and cooperation between authorities overseeing agriculture, environmental protection and economic affairs to incorporate the related industries.
Perhaps the government should consider holding a cross-departmental meeting on pig farming affairs to help pig farmers break through legal obstacles and enhance the industry’s competitiveness.
Chen Wen-ching is a director of the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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