The number of dead pigs found in Shanghai’s Huangpu river climbed to at least 6,600 as the official Xinhua News Agency reported a farm in neighboring Zhejiang province confessed to dumping carcasses in the water.
The municipal government pulled 685 hogs from the river yesterday, adding to the 5,916 it had retrieved earlier, according to a statement on its website. A farm in Jiaxing admitted to discarding dead pigs in the river, after 70,000 of the animals died in the city from crude raising techniques and extreme weather at the start of the year, Xinhua said yesterday, citing the Jiaxing authorities. The Xinhua report didn’t specify whether other farms were involved in the dumping.
The discovery of the hogs comes as China’s legislature addresses food safety and citizens become more vocal on public health and environmental issues. The government said 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.
“The impact on sentiment is big when you see floating pigs along this river,” Jean-Yves Chow, an analyst at Rabobank International, said in an interview in Hong Kong. “The government has to do what they need to make some improvements and create transparency among farmers.”
China’s Agriculture Ministry is leading the investigation into the dead pigs, China National Radio reported today, citing Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian.
The Huangpu River cuts through the center of China’s financial hub, running past Shanghai’s historic waterfront Bund area. The districts of Songjiang and Jinshan, where many of the pigs were found, are more than 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of the city center, which is home to the country’s largest stock market and the China headquarters of HSBC Holdings Plc and Citigroup Inc.
A common disease among hogs, porcine circovirus, was found in a sample taken from the river, Shanghai’s agriculture department said on March 11, citing the city’s animal disease control authorities. Tests conducted on the river, which provides drinking water for some of the municipality’s 23 million residents, were negative for other diseases including foot-and-mouth, swine fever, hog cholera and blue ear, it said.
There’s no evidence that porcine circovirus is a safety risk or causes illness in humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
“If there are dead animals in a water supply, then it’s unlikely to be a good idea to drink that water because of the risk of bacteria or other kinds of infections,” said Ben Cowling, associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.
The city’s water authorities conducted “close” inspections on the six water inlets and nine water plants in the affected area yesterday, according to the government’s weibo posting. Tests showed “stable” readings for factors such as bacteria levels and odors at the inlets, and that the water plants fulfilled national quality standards, it said. The facilities supply about 22 percent of the city’s water.
Shanghai authorities had said in an earlier statement it had restored clean water to parts of the river in Maogang, where the carcasses were first discovered. Investigations by food regulatory authorities show that there’s no sign diseased pork has entered the city’s markets, according to a posting on the city’s website.
‘Peace of Mind’
Concerns about Shanghai’s water follows a public apology issued by by Yum! Brands Inc., owner of the KFC food chain, in January after a probe found excessive levels of antibiotics in its chicken supplies. Other food-safety scares have included chemicals in liquor and tainted milk that lead to the death of at least six babies in 2008.
“One of the key issues with food is the issue of quality and peace of mind for consumers,” Jean-Luc Lowinski, head of China at Sanofi and a trained veterinarian who used to run Bayer AG’s global animal health division, said in Shanghai yesterday. “More and more consumers will ask for traceability and quality in their food.”
Separately, Xinhua reported today that 38 dead pigs were found at a river in the central Chinese province of Hubei. The carcasses were disinfected and disposed, Xinhua said, citing the local government.
Xinhua reported yesterday that a court in Zhejiang jailed 46 people for selling diseased pork, following a campaign that started in April 2012 to clamp down on the illegal act. The court said that 6,218 kilograms of products that tested positive for various viruses were seized and will be destroyed, according to Xinhua.
Shanghai retrieved 14 ear tags from the dead hogs, of which one was tied to the Jiaxing farm that eventually confessed, according to a statement on the Shanghai government’s website that cited Jiaxing authorities. Seven of the tags proved untraceable and investigations are ongoing into the remaining six, it said.
Jiaxing has more than 100,000 pig farmers and about 4.5 million hogs are slaughtered there each year, Xinmin.cn reported this week, citing Jiang Hao, a deputy director of the Jiaxing animal husbandry and veterinary bureau. Farmers caught discarding dead pigs irresponsibly may face fines of as much as 3,000 yuan ($482), according to the newspaper.
China had more than 460 million hogs in inventory as of December, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture. The nation is the world’s biggest consumer and producer of pork. Prices of marbled pork fell 4 percent in March 1-10, compared with late February, while pork-leg prices slipped 3.9 percent in the same period, the National Bureau of Statistics said today.
Prices “are going down because of the seasonal effect after Chinese New Year and prices will continue going down in the second and third quarters,” said Rabobank’s Chow. Carcases in the river “may put off some consumers for a few days, but keep in mind that pork is still a key staple meat in China.”
— With assistance by Shiyin Chen