China's pork industry grapples with pollution crisis

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

China has mobalised a livestock pollution taskforce to crackdown on slurry that has polluted local water sources
China has mobalised a livestock pollution taskforce to crackdown on slurry that has polluted local water sources
Genetics and nutrition companies look set to benefit from a Chinese crackdown on pollution from the livestock sector, after critics claim slurry is contaminating water supplies.

An ongoing clear-out of pig farms has intensified this summer with arrests and bulldozing of farms in water-sensitive and tourist areas meaning that pig supply is squeezed.

A recently released five-year plan for the pig breeding sector declares that China will be self-sufficient and not dependent on pork imports, with any increase in supply coming from large, modern pig farms producing better pigs rather than any increase in smaller farms.

The plan, published by the agriculture ministry, stresses that low productivity and high costs currently makes Chinese pork less competitive than European and US imports.

Slurry ‘damaging water’

China’s local and national media are full of stories this summer of local moves against water-polluting pig farms. Interviewed on the agricultural news channel of China Central TV, Fan Jian Jun, mayor of Ninghai, a town of 100,000 people, stated his town had set up a ‘livestock pollution special task force’ which had shut 1,283 pig farms this year to deal with a “slurry problem​” that was “damaging water supplies.” Farmers who refuse to comply are fined and jailed, said mayor Fan.

Earlier this summer local governments were handed a detailed dossier from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) on how to enforce law and detailing for local governments the areas which should be cleared of livestock farming. Drinking water sources tops the list of areas off limits areas in the list from the MEP, followed by tourist areas and areas of special conservation. Also listed as off limits: population centres including schools. Remaining livestock farms of any nature now require slurry tanks and biogas equipment.

While the MEP document lists beef and sheep farms there is a clear emphasis on pig farms. Backyard farms (a few pigs for household use) appear to be excluded but there are clear procedures to demolish large (500 head) facilities contravening the legislation with compensation paid to farmers.

Dead pig scandal

Some provinces have taken tough action, with the south-eastern province of Fujian shutting 15,000 pig farms in the second half of 2015, according to the provincial government. Much of the pig farms appear to be moving inland to lesser-populated regions.

This summer’s crackdown on polluting pig farms​ has been some time coming. In April 2015 a water pollution prevention action plan required farms to move from prohibited areas by 2017, with a year deadline given for livestock located in off-limits zones under the municipal governments of key cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The Environmental Protection Law issued in 2015 saw a further tightening with closures of farms and large-scale moving of livestock facilities out of areas listed as being off-limits to livestock.

A 2013 scandal over dead pigs in the Huangpu River flowing into Shanghai triggered the first shut down of pig farms by local governments after media attention impacted sales of pork. In 2014 regulations on pollution for “[large] scal​e” livestock and poultry farms saw the first designating of particular areas as being off-limits to livestock farms.

Efficiency sought

Chinese government has put much emphasis recently on “standardising​” the livestock sector, with the building of model pig farms and pork processing bases with government subsidies which are meant to serve as models for cleaner, more efficient pork production. This contrasts with a past government emphasis on subsidies for increasing capacity and pork output with little stress on standards of environmental management.

It now remains to be seen how soaring pig prices will impact the enforcement of China’s environmental laws on livestock production. China’s pork production fell 5.9% in the first quarter of 2015. Retail pork prices jumped 35% year on year in April while average prices for live hogs rose 51%. Imports of pork rose 90% year on year to 280,000 tons in the first quarter of 2016 while imports of pork offal rose to 287,000 tons.

Related topics: Environment, China, Pork

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