Source: USA Today.com, March 14, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Armed with long bamboo poles, masked workers continued to haul dead hogs from a river in the Shanghai suburbs Thursday, where the pig body count now exceeds 6,600, according to the municipal government.
City officials repeated reassurances to a nervous public that the drinking water in China’s financial capital, which draws on the affected Huangpu River, remains safe, and carried out checks on pork in Shanghai’s shops and markets.
The tide of dead pigs, first discovered last week, swept in from upriver in east China’s Jiaxing city, a center of pig breeding where local media said farmers had resorted to river dumping after a government crackdown on selling meat from sick pigs.
From ear tags, investigators have already identified one Jiaxing farmer who has admitted dumping dead pigs and may face criminal charges. Local officials have denied an epidemic was responsible, and suggested a combination of illness and bad weather killed the animals.
For many Chinese, this bizarre incident, complete with graphic pictures and video of pig carcasses bobbing in garbage-choked waterways, deepens their worries about the appalling state of China’s rivers, lakes and underground water, and its wider environment, after decades of breakneck economic growth and industrialization. And dead pigs should be the least of their worries, say environmentalists.
At the ongoing annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp congress, which confirmed Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in the largely ceremonial role of state president on Thursday, officials have renewed government promises to slow the destruction of China’s environment.
At the same time, the public grows frustrated by the government’s lack of transparency over the extent and impact of pollution, as highlighted by the environmental protection ministry’s recent refusal to release a four-year study on soil pollution.
The pig deaths have also renewed concerns about poor food safety in China, one of the most widespread public worries. On Wednesday, 46 people were jailed for selling meat from sick pigs in Wenling, in Zhejiang province where Jiaxing is also located. In a cabinet reshuffle this week, Beijing announced that China’s food safety watchdog would be upgraded into a full ministry, although without better rule of law and independent media, the move’s impact may prove limited.
The tide of pigs has inspired much black humor online. Some Chinese Internet users changed the movie poster “Life of Pi” to “Life of Pigs”, showing a boat and sea full of dead pigs. Many jokes referred to Shanghai residents now enjoying free pork chop soup from their taps, while one popular microblog post mentioned the way Portland, Ore., drained an 8 million-gallon reservoir in 2011 after a man was filmed urinating there. “American people’s mental quality is so weak, there are over 6,000 dead pigs floating in the Huangpu River, but that counts as nothing (for Chinese people),” it read.
The fear of water pollution is no laughing matter for Ma Rui, 29, a clerk in a Shanghai bank.
“At first, when I saw the pig news on Weibo (microblogs), I was very angry about the farmers who threw the pigs into the river, and worried whether the pigs have swine fever,” he said. “I keep watching every day, but I found there is less and less news about it.”
Ma said he has long worried about water, soil and air quality.
“Shanghai is surrounded by chemical plants, and now dead pigs became another pollutant,” he said. “In recent years, the most popular year-end bonus or during festivals from my company is organic food. This New Year, we got organic tomatoes, cabbages and some other organic food.”
China’s government admits that most of its rivers are polluted, many seriously, and new waterways under construction face the same problem. One vast project to divert water from the Yangtze River to parched north China faces major pollution battles. Along its central route, officials have closed 900 polluting factories, at an annual cost in lost income of $241 million, Nanyang Mayor Mu Weimin told the China Daily newspaper.
The environmental advocacy group Greenpeace warns of other dangers affecting drinking water supply.
“The pig incident is just an incident that doesn’t happen every day, but (water) pollution caused by chemical fertilizer and pesticide is like the elephant in the room, it’s already there and getting worse and worse every day,” said Pan Wenjing, assistant manager of Greenpeace’s agriculture campaign.
“Most farmers have realized that massive use of pesticides and fertilizer harm the environment, but it’s easier to use them than the labor-intensive and technology-intensive ecological farming method,” she said. “Farmers don’t get enough technical and financial support on how to use less agrichemicals but ensure their yield.”
At the National People’s Congress in Beijing, China’s President Xi Jinping appears aware of public concerns, as he told one meeting that Chinese Internet users judge lake water quality on whether the mayor dares swim there.
The imperative of economic growth has long trumped green worries here, but many citizens now demand action to repair their ravaged environment. At a top, foreign-funded hospital in Beijing, Dr. Lin Zhonghui, an ear, nose and throat specialist, has this month sent pictures to local newspapers of city workers burning garbage in open areas even on days when the air pollution level is “beyond index” and emergency measures are supposed to kick in to reduce air pollutants.
Lin reports fast-rising patient numbers in the past two months of choking air pollution, while some patients plan to leave the Chinese capital for good.
“It’s the worst I’ve experienced in 14 years here. You feel terrible just breathing the said,” he said.
The smog is good for business at a World Health Store in central Beijing where expensive, imported face masks have been selling briskly, said saleswoman Sunny Han, who uses one on her long commute to work. The current political meetings “will talk about pollution but won’t have any measures to deal with it,” she said. “In China, economic development comes first.”