A PUTRID tide of almost 3,000 pig carcasses found floating in a Shanghai river that supplies much of the drinking water to the Chinese metropolis has caused outrage in the city.
By this evening, the authorities had fished more than 2,800 carcasses from the upper reaches of the Huangpu River in the Songjiang and Jinshan districts of Shanghai. The river is a source of water for many of the city’s 23 million residents.
State news agency Xinhua reported that labels on the pigs’ ears indicate they came from the neighbouring Zhejiang province. The dumping follows a clampdown on the illegal trade in contaminated pork.
Pigs that have died from disease should be either burned or buried, but some unscrupulous farmers and animal control officials have sold problematic carcasses to slaughterhouses and the pork has ended up in markets. China’s ministry of public security has made it a priority to crack down on gangs that purchase dead diseased pigs and process them for illegal profits.
Zhejiang police said officers have been campaigning to rid the market of unsafe pork and that efforts were stepped up as families gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year in February.
Police in Jiaxing last year broke up a criminal gang that acquired and slaughtered diseased pigs. Police arrested 12 suspects and confiscated nearly 12 tonnes of tainted pork.
“Ever since the police have stepped up efforts to crack down on the illicit market of sick pigs since last year, no-one has come here to buy dead pigs, and the problem of pig dumping is worse than ever this year,” a villager told the Jiaxing Daily newspaper, which is run by the local Communist Party.
Wang Xianjun, a government worker for Zhulin village, told the paper villagers were breeding too many pigs. He said the village had 10,078 dead pigs in January and 8,325 in February, adding: “We do not have that much land for burial.”
State media reported that lab tests on a water sample from the river detected a swine flu known as porcine circovirus, but authorities said the virus can’t spread to human beings and that water quality had not been affected.
“So far water quality has not been affected, but we have to remove the pigs as quickly as possible and can’t let their bodies rot in the water,” Xu Rong, the director of Shanghai Songjian district environmental protection bureau said.
The pigs were first found on Thursday by local residents close to a local water treatment plant. Barges were sent out to collect the bodies over the weekend.
Huang Beibei, a lifetime resident of Shanghai, was the first to expose the problem when he took photos of the carcasses and put them online on Thursday. He wrote: “This is the water we are drinking. What is the government doing to address this?”
Local reporters then followed the story up.
Mr Huang said he was concerned about water safety. He said: “Though the government says the water is safe, at least I do not believe it, given the number of the pigs in the river. These pigs have died from disease.”
The reports of the dead pigs emerged as the country’s top leaders meet in Beijing for the annual National People’s Congress. China’s deteriorating environment is high on the agenda of the national legislative meeting, amid public outcry and media attention. Last year, Hu Siyi, vice-minister of water resources, said data showed that 40 per cent of Chinese rivers are seriously polluted.
To highlight the state of a river in his home town recently, Chinese entrepreneur Jin Zengmin used social media website Sino Weibo to challenge a local environmental official in Zhejiang Province to swim in the polluted river for 200,000 yuan.
Mr Jin posted photos online showing the river full of floating rubbish, and said he was able to swim there when he was a child.