China’s “Garbage Pig” Problem

China’s “Garbage Pig” Problem

Pigs at a local dump feed off of waste

In China’s poorer provinces, “garbage pigs” can be seen roaming through dump sites, feeding on leftovers from households and restaurants. This practice has existed in certain parts of China for over 20 years now, usually stemming from small households that are most vulnerable to rises in feed prices.

In 2006, China passed the Animal Husbandry Law of the PRC that prohibits the use of swill and dump waste as animal feed, arising mainly out of public health concerns. Swill and dump waste are typically loaded with health-threatening microorganisms and other pollutants, that can cause serious diseases in pigs, resulting in pandemics. When humans consume this pork, (which they do often, as “garbage pigs” are prone to grow more fat, catering to local tastes) they can also fall ill.

Though the 2006 law was by and large a response to the media exposures of the country’s “garbage pig” phenomenon, the passing of the law failed to bring about an end to this practice. For China’s small farmers, “garbage pigs” are essential to their livelihoods. While the price of normal feed has been increasing, farmers can raise “garbage pigs” at essentially no additional cost. Small farmers are therefore protected from pork price fluctuations.

An industrial “garbage pig” chain has emerged, from garbage collection to slaughter. Formal slaughterhouses usually require certificates to prove vehicle disinfection, inspection and quarantine, as well as ear tagging. Theoretically, “garbage pigs” can obtain neither inspection nor quarantine certification. However, with middlemen paying the slaughterhouses an additional 20 yuan (approx. USD 2.93) per pig, “garbage pigs” have made there way into the formal slaughterhouse system. “You just pay more money. It’s very easy to get stamp(ed),” said one pig farmer.

This issue illustrates the lack of reinforcement associated with the animal husbandry law as well as the shortcomings of government regulation. Fragmented regulation makes it easier for different agencies to shirk their responsibilities. The local environmental protection, hygiene, and animal quarantine departments are responsible respectively for waste management, food safety during distribution, and animal quarantine. No single agency is responsible for coordinating all the departments. Plus “garbage pigs,” usually exist on such a large scale and involve hundreds of households in one area, overwhelming the often understaffed food safety and environmental authorities.

To end this practice also means addressing the concerns of small households, which is simply too difficult job for local governments. Just as a “garbage pig” farmer said in the news: “The government did issue a ban (on such practices) but it won’t work. To tell you the truth, these “garbage pigs” are more precious than our own lives. If they (the government) stop us, we’ll fight (with) our lives!”

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