Workers are pulling thousands of dead pigs out of the Huangpu River that runs through Shanghai. Eartags on the deceased swine indicate that they are from neighboring Zhejiang Province, though the cause of death is not yet known.
Is this a China problem? Or is this a problem of industrial pig farming?
In the cramped and stifling quarters of a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation), genetically identical pigs die because they’re sick and/or stressed, and because the genetic diversity that would otherwise confer some level of disease resistance on the population has been replaced by homogeneity in search of so-called production efficiencies. Dead pigs are common to all industrial production, all across the globe. Consider that in the United States, industrial swine farms have an average 3% mortality rate. That means that for a 10,000 head finishing operation, each year, 300 dead pigs have to be disposed of. And that’s just one farm, in a regular season, without a disease outbreak!
Disposal practices in the US include burying carcasses on-farm, incinerating them, taking them to rendering plants (of which there are only a few that accept dead animals), or composting them. Composting is the so-called “sustainable” solution to industrial hog mortality. After all, composting creates a nutrient-rich product that can be incorporated into soils surrounding the pig farm, feeding the next corn crop.
Except that “nutrients” coming out of the CAFO in the form of manure are already in excess of what the soils surrounding the pig farm can absorb. Industrial pig farming transforms manure from a resource to a waste management nightmare to a serious pollution problem to dead zones to…you get the picture. There’s simply too much. Too much phosphorus, too much nitrogen, TOO MUCH.
So composting dead pigs to make “fertilizer” isn’t all that sustainable. It’s excess, just like the system itself produces excess — phosphorus, CO2,meat, calories, corporate concentration…
The dead pigs in the Huangpu likely succumbed to a viral outbreak, which because industrial pig farming is practiced using “improved” pig breeds that are genetically identical (and by the way, are the very same pigs we produce in the United States), easily wipes out hundreds or thousands of animals in one go. This incident is not the result of production mismanagement by Chinese farmers, although this is the analysis we’ll no doubt see in the Western press (and dumping infected swine carcasses in rivers is surely its own special form of mismanagement, but that’s a different issue). We’ll also see the industry in the US come out and say that we don’t have dead pigs in our rivers, and we’ve got this dead pig disposal thing nailed down. But they’ll be wrong about that, and both will miss the point.
INDUSTRIAL PIG FARMING IS THE PROBLEM, NOT JUST CHINA’S VERSION OF IT.