Environmental and Food Safety Pressures on China’s Pig Industry

Producing large quantities of pork in China entails additional costs related to the environment and food safety that are not factored into the market price of pork, explain Fred Gale, Daniel Marti and Dinghuan Hu in a report entitled ‘China’s Volatile Pork Industry’ from the USDA Economic Research Service.
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According to Wang et al (2006), one Chinese hog produces 5.3kg of waste daily, which contains large amounts of nutrients not absorbed by the animal as well as heavy metals and pharmaceutical residues. During the 1950s and 1960s, Chinese officials encouraged individual households to raise hogs as a means of producing organic fertiliser to spread on fields to raise grain yields. In later decades, chemical fertiliser became available and the rising demand for meat prompted a large increase in the number of hogs. Consequently, the production of manure exceeded the capacity of the surrounding farmland to absorb its nutrients.

Small farms rarely treat manure but large farms are usually required to invest in treatment facilities. Gao et al. (2006) estimated that 80 per cent of commercial–scale farms lack equipment and facilities to dispose of waste properly, which causes ‘serious pollution of water, soil, and air and threatens the health of animals and humans.’ Waste often washes into streams and rivers, fouling drinking water and contributing to eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) of major bodies of water.

Several Chinese studies estimated that pollution from livestock farms totalled roughly three billion metric tons annually, about three times the pollution emitted from industrial sources (Gao et al., 2006; Liu, 2009; and Wang et al., 2006). Gao et al. estimated China’s hog waste at 1.29 billion metric tons annually, 47 per cent of the total livestock and poultry waste generated. A census of pollution sources released in 2009 found that livestock waste was a chief cause of water pollution in China (China Ministry of Environmental Protection, 2010).

While Chinese officials are taking steps to address these problems, the dense population of hogs strains the capacity of the land to supply feed for hogs and absorb their waste and also makes it difficult to control and prevent animal diseases (FAO, 2006). China has many regions with high hog population densities. ERS calculations using provincial– and state–level data on hog inventories and crop–land for China and the United States show that China had 94 hogs for every 100 acres of crop–land nationwide at year–end in 2008, more than four times the US ratio of 20 hogs per 100 acres.

In many of China’s leading hog–producing provinces, the density exceeded 100 hogs per 100 acres, and the density exceeded 200 in Sichuan, Hunan and Guangdong Provinces. North Carolina was the only US State with over 200 hogs per 100 acres (similar to the density in Sichuan), and Iowa had 82 (slightly below the China average and similar to the density in Hebei and Jiangsu Provinces). Other US States had densities of fewer than 40 hogs per 100 acres, far less than in China. With an already–high density of hogs, the environmental impact of hog production and tight supplies of feed may constrain growth of China’s hog industry.

Chinese officials are promoting ‘ecological’ modes of hog production that use hog waste to feed fish or fertilise crops and use bacteria to break down hog waste. China’s 2011-2015 five–year plan will emphasise the importance of controlling livestock waste (Zhang, 2010b). However, a number of cities and provinces in China have introduced regulations that ban hog farms and slaughterhouses from operating near residential areas and waterways. Draft regulations prepared by Shandong Province in 2010 banned new livestock farms in urban areas, near sources of drinking water, in scenic areas and in places where toxic substances exceed prescribed limits.

Food safety is also a major concern for Chinese consumers of pork. The news media in China has frequently reported on the hog industry’s use of clenbuterol and other illegal feed additives, the slaughter of sick hogs, the pumping of potentially contaminated water into hogs prior to slaughter and the contamination of feed with heavy metals. Chinese consumers are also becoming more wary of pork products that contain dyes, preservatives, and other food additives.

In March 2011, a widely publicised report that a subsidiary of China’s largest processed pork manufacturer purchased hogs raised with illegal feed additives had little direct impact on the pork market (Woolsey and Zhang, 2011). However, industry reports claim that the incident helped drive the trend toward consolidation of hog farms discussed earlier in this report. For example, the company implicated in the incident pledged to open a 10,000–head company–operated farm to supply each slaughterhouse it builds to gain more control over the production process .

Food safety concerns are also contributing to changes in purchase patterns that may make consumers more receptive to imported pork. Traditionally, Chinese consumers preferred to purchase freshly slaughtered pork from small wet market vendors but food safety concerns have encouraged them to shift purchases to supermarkets where pork is believed to be more sanitary and free of illegal feed additives. Government plans to consolidate slaughterhouses by 2015 entail an increase in inter–regional trade in chilled or frozen pork.

The diminishing role of localised wet markets and the development of modern market channels with cold–chain facilities may create more opportunities for imported pork to reach Chinese consumers. Many Chinese consumers responded to the dairy industry’s melamine adulteration crisis by purchasing imported milk products, and demand for imported pork could similarly be boosted by domestic food safety concerns.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

March 2012
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