Authorities have been zoning in on unscrupulous slaughterhouses who are processing dead and diseased pigs in a trade that risks damaging the image of the local meat industry in the eyes of local consumers.
Thirty-one suspects were arrested and 14 dead pigs seized this week when a target team of China Food & Drug Administration (CFDA) and police officers swarmed on an unlicensed slaughterhouse in the Maonan district of Maoming city in prosperous Guangdong province. State media, taken along for the raid, filmed vats of chopped meat and bones in blue plastic vats with water, and salt piled on the floor of a decrepit and dark interior.
Similar raids in Foshan, another city in Guangdong province, also yielded meat butchered from “dead and diseased pigs”, a term that has spread like wildfire across China’s state media and in circulars from regulatory bodies like the CFDA (which enforces food safety rules) and the quality control watchdog, the Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection & Quarantine (AQSIQ).
Likewise, a raid in Zhuzhou city in the central province of Hunan yielded three tons of meat in a “black workshop”. Shocking photos in the local media showed large plastic tanks of pork meat, but also featured a smoking room for pork legs, suggesting a level of sophistication.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the top legislative body in Henan province – the country’s most populous and home to major pork firms like Shuanghui (WH Group) – named “sick and dead pigs” alongside fake drugs and recycled cooking oil as the top targets of regulators in food safety campaigns in 2018.
This year’s campaign against the practice seems more focused, with a heavy-duty propaganda campaign ensuring that news of raids and spot-checks appears on TV stations and newspapers across the land. Authorities involved include the CFDA, AQSIQ, police and local offices of the animal husbandry and veterinary bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture.
In many cases, backyard and ‘black’ or unlicensed slaughterhouses have taken advantage of the consumption peak period to put the meat into circulation, having picked up the pigs at give-away prices or under the pretext of disposing of them.
Much is at stake, given that worries about food safety have turned consumers off Chinese meat products and towards imports. China has countered with a 2017 campaign of ‘fang xin rou’ or ‘rest assured meat’ shops opened or designated across the country to reassure consumers.
Similarly, in the past year, the CFDA has caught supermarket bosses off-guard with unannounced spot-checks at outlets in the major cities – some of which led to the closure of meat counters when excessive levels of antibiotic traces were discovered in meat.
Traceability continues to be a major problem for China’s animal husbandry sector, which lacks a national herd database that would force farmers to account for missing or dead animals. Clearly, the challenge is immense, while the multiplicity of agencies involved has traditionally been a weak point of China’s enforcement efforts.
Regional governments, meanwhile, have been stepping in to subsidise and provide disposal facilities for dead animals. Refrigerated containers have been placed in villages in Guizhou province – these are then taken to a central crematorium on a regular basis.
On a national level, the Ministry of Agriculture has provided subsidies to regions to build a proper animal disposal system, but has had to issue frequent public notices after reports of misuse of funds, with some local authorities over-reporting dead pig numbers to draw down more funds. The latest such circular, issued at the beginning of this month and titled ‘Administrative Measures on Subsidy Funds for Animal Epidemic Prevention and Implementation Guidance for Implementing the Financial Support Policy for Prevention and Control of Animal Epidemics’ demanded an outline of reasons for animal deaths above a certain number.