Floating carcasses prompt safety concerns

Updated: 2013-03-20 07:50

By Wang Hongyi in Jiaxing and He Na and Xu Wei in Beijing (China Daily)

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Xinfeng town still uses the traditional method of carcass disposal. The bodies decompose slowly in large holding tanks containing corrosive chemicals. However, the time-consuming nature of the process means it's hard to meet the demand caused by the large number of carcasses every year.

Shanghai's animal incineration center was introduced in 2003. Its daily capacity of 35 cubic tons is equal to that of Xinfeng's 40 disposal tanks working at full capacity for six months.

The methods employed in Shanghai are better regulated, but the initial outlay is far higher than that for disposal tanks. However, the traditional method is also costly; the tanks require far more land than an incinerator and the process can cause secondary pollution and safety hazards, according to Chen Xiang, a researcher at the Office of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the Zhejiang Provincial People's Congress.

China's rapid urbanization has also added to the problem; many pig farms have been driven to the suburbs because of land shortages and concerns about pollution. "Pig breeding requires land, and the smell is also very unappealing to nearby residents. Therefore, communities do not want pigsties near them," said Feng.

"Faced with soaring land prices, the farmers are forced to increase the density of piglets on their farms, which increases the risk of disease," he said.

"I've been raising pigs for more than six years. Generally, each pig needs at least 1 cubic meter of space. If that space is too crowded, the temperature and humidity of the farm is affected. It also causes changes in the way the pigs eat and drink, their levels of activity and rest. Drainage also becomes a bigger problem," said Wang Honglai, a farmer from Wangzhuangtou village in Cangzhou, Hebei province.

"I've never seen a large number of pig deaths in our village, but I know that farmers secretly sell fully grown dead pigs to slaughterhouses at a very low price. If piglets too young for the table die, the farmers just throw them away," he said.

Insufficient government spending has resulted in a lack of administrative power in the supervision of the livestock industry, and the large number of individual breeders means it has become a problem nationwide.

"Supervision of the pork industry requires the combined efforts of several government departments, such as the agriculture, commerce, food and drug administrations, and the complicated process often results in departments evading their responsibilities," said Peng.

The method of evaluating government officials also discourages them from reporting outbreaks of disease to their superiors, according to Feng. "The general health of the pigs is an important evaluation standard for officials. If an epidemic occurs in a certain region, high-level officials are likely to question whether the preventive work has been done. Fearing a negative effect, many officials choose to hide outbreaks, rather than report them," he said.

To make matters worse, the huge number of small-scale farmers makes it difficult for insurance companies to gather evidence if disease strikes. That, plus the high failure rate, means insurers are unwilling to provide cover, according to Zhang.

He added that even if cover were available, few farmers could afford to pay premiums that can be as high as 100 yuan per animal, especially as the risk of failure is so high. "Even if the pigs have been given a large number of vaccines, diseases are not always avoidable because of the wide range of different strains. It's an unavoidable fact."

Yang Wanli contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at wanghongyi@chinadaily.com.cn and hena@chinadaily.com.cn

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