Will dumping of dead pigs make officials clean up their act?

Jiaxing and Shanghai have long turned a blind eye to dumping of carcasses, and they're unlikely to have learned their lesson

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:49pm

Neither Shanghai nor Jiaxing, in Zhejiang province, have apologised or punished officials since the first of more than 16,000 dead pigs started turning up in the Huangpu River and its tributaries more than two weeks ago.

And that has left Shanghai residents wanting more than official assurances that their tap water is still safe. The Huangpu is one of the city's main drinking water sources.

Authorities in the two cities have reacted to the crisis by launching a campaign to retrieve carcasses from waterways, step up the "non-hazardous" treatment of dead pigs, educate breeders and intensify water monitoring.

Jiaxing's new party secretary, Lu Jun, told the Jiaxing Daily this week that "various levels of authorities should adopt a firm attitude and effective measures to achieve remarkable progress to reply to society's concerns". He also pledged no dead pigs would be found in rivers.

But dereliction of duty has not been mentioned in any official statements from the two cities since the dumping was exposed this month.

The public cannot help but wonder whether the authorities previously did anything to prevent this practice.

Jiaxing officials have known for a long time that farmers have been throwing dead pigs into small creeks criss-crossing their villages, either out of superstitious belief that the carcasses are not auspicious or just because it is a convenient method of disposal.

Six years ago, Jiaxing, one of the largest pig breeding bases in the Yangtze River Delta, began building "non-hazardous treatment pools" and hiring people to collect dead pigs from farms, the Jiaxing Daily said.

It now has 600 such pools, each about 100 to 300 cubic metres in size, but that is far from sufficient to accommodate all the carcasses produced. Jiaxing raises seven million pigs every year, with 3 per cent - 210,000 - dying for various reasons.

Handbooks distributed to the city's 100,000 pig farmers last year told them not to dump dead pigs into rivers or waste yards or sell them to illegal dealers, but to hand them to carcass collectors hired by the village committees. But their habits are hard to change.

Ironically, Jiaxing said last week that it had established a system six months ago making officials fully responsible for fighting pollution in waterways under their jurisdiction. But that did not stop thousands of dead pigs floating 100 kilometres downstream to Shanghai.

No Jiaxing farmers were fined for dumping carcasses into waterways until recently, when eight had to pay 3,000 yuan each - the penalty stipulated under the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law. They were identified after an investigation of ear labels retrieved from some of the dead pigs found in Shanghai.

While the dumping of dead pigs has been going on for a long time, the recent surge in the number was caused by a crackdown on an underground meat market for buying and processing pork from diseased pigs.

The Beijing Times said about 4,000 dead pigs were retrieved from the Huangpu River in Shanghai most years, but officials had turned a blind eye to the problem in the past and only started to take it seriously when numbers soared recently.

Shanghai officials may have complained in the past that they could not do anything to stop the carcasses flowing downstream, but they did erect barriers in the past week, and they could have raised the issue with Jiaxing or Zhejiang.

Environmental protection schemes based on regional co-operation are common on the mainland, but they are toothless and those administering them cannot issue penalties. What local officials care most about is economic growth.

Some Jiaxing officials privately rejoiced at the dead pig crisis, seeing it as revenge for toxic gas emissions from chemical factories in Shanghai's Jinshan district that have affected their city for years.

With no official held accountable, it is hard to be optimistic that the authorities have really learned a lesson.