Panic as pig deaths mount
Dead pigs keep bobbing up in Shanghai's rivers. When the bodies of hundreds of pigs started surfacing last weekend in rivers upstream from the city, it prompted only mild shock, showing perhaps how routine safety scares about food and water have become in China.
But worries turned to panic late on Tuesday, when authorities revealed that the number of dead pigs pulled out of waterways had climbed in the course of three days to 5916.
Shanghai officials pleaded for calm and insisted the drinking water for Shanghai's 23 million residents was still safe. They said there was no disease epidemic causing the deaths. Instead they pointed the finger at farmers in the nearby city of Jiaxing who, they say, are dumping pigs who die in the course of their farming into the Huangpu River, instead of burying or incinerating them.
Workers deliver the bodies of dead pigs to a disposal facility in Jiaxing, near Shanghai. Photo: AFP
Local authorities near the pig farms explained it differently. On March 12, an unnamed official associated with the Agricultural Department in Zhejiang province, a likely source for the pigs, was quoted in Caijing, a financial news publication, saying that 3000 pigs had frozen to death. ''Pig cold resistance is low,'' the unnamed official said. ''And an increase in the number of deaths is normal.''
Elsewhere in state-owned media, the director of the same department explained that farmers in Zhejiang are ''in the habit'' of dumping dead pigs in rivers.
None of this was received well online. Thousands of Chinese microbloggers have been compelled to point out in various ways that temperatures in Zhejiang province rarely dip below freezing. Xue Manzi, a Beijing-based entrepreneur with more than 10 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's most popular Twitter-like microblog, spoke for many when he tweeted: ''Currently, Zhejiang province's response is 'they froze to death'.
''How could well over 10,000 pigs in one village freeze to death in January? And more than 8000 freeze to death in February? Why did the pigs freeze to death only in Jiaxing? Only Jiaxing pigs are fond of catching colds? Pigs in other places don't catch colds?
''Is it so difficult to get the officials to apologise? Forever avoiding blame.''
Shanghai authorities have stepped up their inspections and retrieval of dead pigs from the city's main river after the number of carcasses found in China's largest commercial city climbed to at least 6600 on Wednesday. The government pulled 685 from the Huangpu River by mid-afternoon, adding to the 5916 found up until then. The number of pigs found on Wednesday fell almost 44 per cent from the previous day. More than 200 boats have been mobilised to retrieve carcasses.
The discovery of the pigs comes as China's legislature tackles issues of food safety and citizens become more vocal on the government's handling of public health and environmental issues. The government said on March 10 at a National People's Congress meeting that it plans to create a regulator with broader authority to ensure food and drug safety and said the agriculture ministry will oversee the quality of farm products.
Water and air pollution have increasingly sparked public anger in China. And the pigs are the latest to attract public scrutiny.
In recent years there have been scandals over tainted milk, antibiotic-filled chicken, glowing meats, toxic liquor and recycled cooking oil.
Washington Post, Bloomberg