Top 13 In 2013, #13: China’s Pig Problem

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 1:00pm
Joel Hans, Managing Editor,

Between December 9 and December 21, we'll be counting down the 13 biggest stories on throughout 2013. From pig problems (see below), to Tesla's on fire, and being held captive in China, we'll be looking into just why these stories resonated with readers here and elsewhere. For the full list, updated daily at 1:00pm EST until the 21st, visit the Top 13 In 2013 page.

One of most-clicked stories this year was also one of the strangest: In March, authorities in China found 2,800 adult and piglet carcasses in the Shanghai River, and were forced to extract them in a grisly scene. Locals were worried the carcasses would contaminate Shanghai’s water supply, but authorities said there was no sign of contamination.

A week later, that number had risen dramatically to 13,765 pigs, with few answers to account for it. Authorities were told yet again not to worry about the quality of their water.

The country had, in the months prior, begun a crackdown on the sale of pork coming from pigs that died of disease. According to law, those pigs should have been incinerated or buried, but certain farmers — sometimes involved in or controlled by criminal gangs — instead butchered the meat and sold it on to regional markets. But when villagers in certain towns raised thousands of pigs, and simply couldn’t dispose of them, it seems they thought the river a viable option.

“According to the law, dead pigs must be burned or buried, but if there is not enough regulatory monitoring, it's possible some of them will be sold into the market at low prices,” said Zheng Fengtian, a professor at the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at Renmin University in Beijing.

Police said they arrested 12 suspects and confiscated nearly 12 tons of tainted pork meat, but not a month later, authorities found another 410 pigs and 122 dogs in homes and at farms in another region of the country. In that case, it’s likely local chemical plants are responsible.

The shock factor may have influenced some to click, but perhaps more important is the element of food safety, even within the U.S. It’s well-known that a great deal of pork grown in China makes its way to the U.S. in one form or another, particularly after being processed and/or canned, which means these diseased animals might be making their way into not only the Shanghai water supply, but also the American food supply.

And with Smithfield Foods, Inc., being purchased by the Chinese group Shuanghui in September, it has many worried about the future of pork products here in America. Certainly, Shuanghui will have to abide by the many U.S. regulations put in place by the FDA and the EPA, but amid a time when more consumers demand manufacturers conduct business ethically and transparency, it’s going to be a major concern moving into 2014.

The story also reminded many of the efficacy and value of various U.S. organizations that keep this kind of irresponsibility in check. Even those who have long espoused the overreach of the EPA, for example, could see how their efforts keep similar events from happening locally. The story has been quiet for a few months, but only time will tell if that’s because authorities have cracked down, or if they just aren’t talking about it anymore.


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