Cradle of Communist Party at centre of dead pig fiasco
Region famed as the birthplace of China's Communist Party forced to revise its methods after tide of rotting hogs is linked to its farmers
For decades, the river-laced city of Jiaxing in northern Zhejiang province has prided itself as the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party.
In 1921, the party met secretly on a boat on the South Lake after their initial gathering in neighbouring Shanghai was broken up by French police.
Now the party's cradle has acquired another, far less auspicious distinction: the origin of some 20,000 pig carcasses retrieved from Shanghai's Huangpu River and other waterways stretching to the coast.
Jiaxing is the leading hog-raising centre in that part of China, and extensive media coverage of the incident has depicted a region of scattered, small-scale farms, where until recently carcasses pigs that died of disease or neglect were as likely to be sold on the black market for pork as they were to be hurled into the nearest river.
Lu Jun, Jiaxing's newly appointed party secretary, said pollution resulting from the intensive hog-raising industry had "severely damaged the local environment and its image of the birthplace of the party", the Jiaxing Daily reported on Friday.
However, analysts and farmers elsewhere across the country said revelations in Jiaxing were only a small window into the problems in the mainland's pig farming industry.
Feng Wei, who raises 1,000 pigs outside Jining, Shandong province, said it was common practice for mainland farmers to dump dead pigs in nearby rivers.
"Many people do so because this way the carcasses float away," he said. "The water takes away the odour and whatever killed the pig."
He said that in northern regions, where there are fewer rivers, hog farmers also throw carcasses in abandoned wells, deserted root cellars or biogas pools. He himself has fed dead pigs to the dogs that guard his farm.
A black market for dead pigs exists in Shandong too, he said.
Who buys them?
"You'd better not eat at street-side stalls," he replied. .
In July 2011, the central government introduced farms that raised more than 50 pigs a year a subsidy of 80 yuan (HK$99) for every dead pig.
By 2010, about 65 per cent of all hogs sold in the mainland market were produced by farms raising 50 pigs or more, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, meaning that small-scale farms not covered by the policy still produced more than a third of the nation's pigs.
Feng said he had never received such a subsidy. Tang Xinjiang, who raises about 500 pigs in Haining city in Zhejiang, has also never been compensated for disposing of pigs properly.
"So far, disposing of dead hogs has been our own business, not the government's," Tang said. He said he usually buries the carcasses in vacant fields.
The Jiaxing government has said that 89 per cent of its hog farms are small ones raising fewer than 50 animals a year, adding that poor farm management was a main reason for the high livestock death rate.
Wang Xiaoyue, an analyst from the Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultants, said pollution from raising pigs has long been rampant across the country.
"It's normal for only seven to eight piglets to survive in a litter of 10," he said. "In some places the dead ones are sold, or they might be dumped in rivers, because burying them is costlier. And, by dumping them in rivers, at least the neighbourhood's environment is not affected."
On most farms today, there's no collective disposal of pigs' waste either, Feng and Wang said. They said most of the waste was discharged directly onto the ground or into the water.
He Zhonghua, an analyst from Chinameat.cn said a top issue in the mainland pig industry was an the absence of overall planning.
"Major hog-producing counties should consider how much their local environment can bear," he said. "The Huangpu River scandal is a typical example of how the environment has been overloaded."
The Jiaxing Daily reported that the city government was studying how to reduce the local hog population and improve the quality of livestock without slashing farmers' income.
Lu, its party chief, called this task "an inevitable trend and a matter that allows no delay", the newspaper said.
He Zhonghua, added that clearer government roles and responsibilities would contribute to a healthier hog industry and safer pork.
At present, the Ministry of Agriculture overseas the raising of hogs, while butchering is the province of the Ministry of Commerce. And at least four different departments are responsible for the quality of pork, which has long been criticised as a reason why officials easily shirk their responsibilities.
According to the central government's restructuring scheme passed by the National People's Congress this month, authority concerning hogs would be centralised to the Ministry of Agriculture, while the power over pork would be given solely to the new State Food and Drug Administration.