China Attempts to Clear a Crucial Water Source of Thousands of Dead Pigs

China Attempts to Clear a Crucial Water Source of Thousands of Dead Pigs

Source: Dow Jones News Service, March 11, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Chinese authorities said they found more than 3,300 dead pigs in a river that supplies water to Shanghai, a stark illustration of China’s problems with environmental pollution.

Health and agricultural authorities in Shanghai said on Monday they were investigating any potential health impact from pigs found floating in the Huangpu River and nearby waters in recent days, as well as how they got there. The river, which supplies Shanghai’s 23 million residents with most of their water, winds toward downtown from the point about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south where the pigs were found.

Authorities had little immediate explanation on how so many dead pigs ended up the river or what killed them.

Pork is China’s primary meat and China’s around half a billion pigs often live in conditions ripe for spreading disease. One industry expert said the mass deaths indicated a disease outbreak, possibly on a single farm.

Chinese social media lit up Monday with photos of masked workers using pitchforks and bamboo poles to remove bruised pig carcasses from the river’s brackish waters and its filthy embankments.

The unsightly nature of what appeared to be a large-scale disposal so close to downtown Shanghai shocked a nation usually complacent about debris clogging its waterways and raised questions not just what killed the pigs but also China’s methods and systems for handling animal deaths.

Shanghai officials said they had found no health threat in the city’s water, though a spokeswoman for one city waterworks said extra precautions were being taken in its treatment for tap usage. Authorities said one test detected a pig-borne disease in the river called porcine circovirus, but that doesn’t normally affect humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Media reports quoted residents saying they started seeing dead pigs last Thursday. The Shanghai Water Authority said its first reports came Friday evening.

Floating pigs aren’t Shanghai’s only water-pollution problem this year, despite years of effort by local authorities to improve local waterways. Residents near where pigs are being pulled from the river went days in January without tap water when a chemical transporter leaked benzene into a Huangpu River tributary. More than 20 people were hospitalized in the incident, which left others to obtain water from fire trucks.

Such incidents have thrust the environment onto the agenda of this year’s National People’s Congress, China’s annual legislative meeting in session in Beijing. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao last week in his work report, similar to the State of the Union address in the U.S., cited environmental-protection plans more than a dozen times.

Air quality in Beijing and other Chinese cities reached hazardous levels during the winter, sickening residents and prompting many to wear masks. In February, a government bureau sparked widespread public grumbling when it said soil- quality statistics were a state secret. Rivers across three northern provinces were also sullied by a chemical leak earlier this year.

The pigs mark a new twist. “It’s unheard of,” said Yao Songqiao, a Beijing-based consultant with International Rivers, a non-governmental organization that focuses on protecting waterways. “On the other hand, working in the environmental protection area [teaches you] anything can happen.”

The specter of dead pigs fouling a crucial source of drinking water also highlighted the parallel issue of food safety. The concern isn’t limited to domestic producers: U.S. fast food giant Yum Brands Inc. in recent months has fended off accusations by state media of subpar chicken served by its KFC chain.

Beijing this month said it would streamline the food-regulation regime, in part to address the safety concerns.

“This incident shows what we need to improve our work,” Chen Xiaohua, China’s vice minister for agriculture, told reporters in Beijing on Monday. He added that authorities need to better educate farmers and improve the official response to animal health problems.

Pigs suffer a wide variety of illnesses. A 2007 outbreak of high-fever blue ear disease killed around 50 million pigs, according to British and Chinese researchers.

The World Organization for Animal Heath reported in January that Chinese authorities culled 948 pigs in southern Guangdong Province after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease there. Mr. Chen said there are no signs of an epidemic but noted the approaching springtime is the key period to prevent disease.

Research firm Genesus Genetics estimates China’s total pig population at more than 470 million.

The Huangpu River is fed by numerous waterways that begin in the industrial agricultural provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, where Shanghai authorities suspect the animals originated. After passing through downtown Shanghai, the Huangpu empties into the Yangtze River.

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