Pollution scandal engulfs China’s meat industry

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

Over 4,000 barrels of toxic waste have been removed from a pig farm in China
Over 4,000 barrels of toxic waste have been removed from a pig farm in China

Related tags Pork

A pig farm has sparked anger in China because it was built on a giant toxic dump in Jiangsu province on the country’s affluent east coast.

Chinese social media has been filled with speculation over the fate of the pigs, given that the 10,000 head site, near the city of Jingjiang, has been linked to a dozen cancer deaths attributed to the presence of chemical waste buried under the pig pens.

Paper work kept by pig famer Tang Manhua suggest 14,000 tons of mostly chlorobenzenes, a by-product from farm fertilizer plants, was stored on site by Tang, who converted the dump to a pig farm in 2012. Tang, who died from a carcinoma, had been paid by local chemical companies to dump on his land.

Thousands of barrels of toxic sludge were excavated and removed from the site only after national authorities were alerted by an article in the influential Beijing Youth Daily. The newspaper’s reporter, Li Xianfeng, tracked down current owner of the site Zhou Jiangang in late September 2015, who claimed in an online post that over 10,000 tonnes of chemical waste were buried under the pig farm (which he bought from Tang with the intention to build a logistics park on the ground) in Jingjiang.

Government action

Zhou was seeking action from authorities on the waste. Li’s stories triggered rapid interventions by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Public Security - 4,000 barrels of hazardous waste were removed. It emerged that local offices of both ministries had visited the site – which is located beside China’s biggest river, the Yangtze - going back to 2012 and hadn’t taken any action to close it.

Tang, according to the Beijing Youth Daily, had sought to appease complaints by local villagers and the local mayor with payments. The newspaper also reported that local farmers had consciously “sold on​” any vegetables produced near the dump site, so that such product wasn’t consumed locally.

A lack of traceability of the country’s meat supply was bemoaned on Chinese social media this week in comments on the Jiangsu case. “The pigs fed here over the years might have been infected with god knows what,​” according to one comment on Weixin.

Toxic dumping

A commentator on Weibo, another microblogging site, compared the Jiangsu problem to the discovery of thousands of dead pigs in a Shanghai river in 2013. Current high pig prices, however, means “sick pigs aren’t ending up in the river but in the dinner pot​”, noted the Weibo poster.

Illegal chemical storage/dumping is becoming an ever bigger issue in China and there are fears that many pig farms may have been located on such land which no one else wants. China’s state-run media – which typically highlights government priorities - has been unusually full of stories this year of regional and national crackdowns on water pollution by the livestock sector.

The past year has seen a surge in reporting in local media of illegal pig farms in particular. National government is forcing the creation of a national registry of water pollution, which requires data from local officials. Many of them are reluctant given they’re now assessed on environmental data in their regions, hence the retrospective dash to shut down the worst polluters.

A similar process has happened with a national air pollution monitor set up to appease angry citizens, many of whom have been getting equally angry over slurried water supplies. A series of stories published since then has led to Li winning an environmental reporting award this month, presented by the School of Environment at the People’s University and Sina News, one of China’s leading online news portals.

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