CHINA : Shanghai’s dead pig story stretches back upstream

English: Huangpu river in Shanghai, view from ...
English: Huangpu river in Shanghai, view from The Oriental Pearl Tower Polski: Rzeka Huangpu w Szanghaju, widok z Perły Orientu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Behind the thousands of dead pigs floating down the Huangpu River, there lies a murky tale of waterway pollution and river management failure. The Guardian reports


The residents of Maogang looked on in despair as first dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately 10,164 dead pigs were pulled out of the Huangpu River.

This small town south-west of Shanghai is near the Xietanggang water intake for the Songjiang Water Pumping Station and one of the four main sources of water for Shanghai.

“We don’t dare drink the river water,” said one villager. The township government has had to bring in a week’s worth of drinking water.

The pigs are believed to have floated downstream from Shaoxing, in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang.

It’s a new problem, but the causes – waterway pollution and failures to manage rivers across administrative boundaries and government departments – are old complaints.

“Dead pigs have always ended up in Shanghai. This time they just went there by river, instead of by truck,” said one Shaoxing pig farmer, pointing at a porcine corpse.

Illegal selling of dead meat

It was only two years ago that pigs started to be dumped in the river. “In the past you could sell them, so they didn’t end up in the river.” The pig farmers all referred back to a court case two years ago, which shocked the city.

Everyone in Shaoxing knows about the case, which saw 17 people tried. In November 2012, the three ringleaders were given life sentences.

It was a typical tale for a pig-farming village. Dong Guoquan and two others ran an illegal butcherhouse, buying in dead pigs. “They got them cheap, one yuan or so per jin.” One farmer explained that a young pig which died of illness would weigh less than 50 jin, an older one no more than 100 [one jin is half a kilogram].

But that didn’t do business any harm. The city’s intermediate court found that in only two years Dong and the others had bought and butchered 77,000 pigs and sold the meat on for 8.65 million yuan. Most of them came from the townships of Fengqiao, where the village is, and Xinfeng.

“Once they’d been arrested nobody wanted to risk buying up dead pigs openly,” 57-year old villager Guo Yue (not his real name) told Southern Weekend. His village of Zhulin, in Xinfeng, is famous for supplying pigs to Hong Kong.

But that meant more pigs were getting thrown in the river. Environmental protection staff in the Songjiang district of Shanghai said they’d taken a trip up river all the way to a concrete plant in Pinghu, Shanghai. Traces of dead pigs were visible all along the route.

A worker on a dredger boat in Caoqiao, Pinghu, said that on March 17, when they had already been working for a week, his boat was still pulling out over 20 pig carcasses a day.

“We do it every year at this time,” said a Zhulin villager responsible for the work. The fishermen all change jobs for a while and start catching pigs.

A Zhejiang environmental protection report in 2011 found that 7.7 million pigs were being farmed in Shaoxing. On average 2% to 4% will die, which means between 150,000 and 300,000 corpses need to be disposed of.

“If dumped, they cause bacterial and viral pollution, as well as 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of chemical oxygen demand,” the report said.

But, still, there are no provisions for proper disposal in place. Many officials – including Chen Yunhua, village secretary in Zhulin; Yuan Liqiang, deputy neighbourhood head in Caoqiao; and Dong Yue, deputy neighbourhood head in Yuantong – said that it was only in 2011, that Shaoxing saw any large scale construction of disposal pits.

But it’s been nowhere near enough. Zhulin is a major pig farming village, but Chen Yunhua explained that there are only seven pits, with an eighth being built.

Others pointed out that one pit can handle three to five thousand corpses. But according to the Shaoxing Daily, 18,400 pigs died in the village in just the first two months of the year. Capacity is overstretched. “The rest just get dumped in the fields or the river,” the villagers say.

Officials try to limit pig farming

A Shaoxing government report admitted that: “the dumping of pigs which have died of illness happens to varying degrees in all districts of Shaoxing.”

“The dead pigs weren’t a big problem in the past, it was pollution from the farming,” said Wang Yubing, deputy at the Pinghu Environmental Protection Bureau. Pinghu borders the Shanghai district of Jinshan and is upriver of the city, and pollution from pig farms further upriver in Nanhu and Haiyan damage water quality.

“The biggest pollution problem for Shaoxing is poultry and livestock farming,” said Xu Luzhong, an inspector with the Zhejiang environmental authorities, when he visited the city. Pig excrement, slurry and the corpses dumped all over mean that the beautiful water town is giving off a bit of a stink.

“There are 130,000 farmers raising over 7 million pigs. Each pig excretes as much as 6 or 7 adult humans,” said Yu Hongwei, deputy of the city’s environmental bureau.

“The government are trying to limit numbers, persuading us to change jobs,” said Chen Yunhua. To cut pig numbers, in 2011 the city set up zones where pig farming was banned or limited, including in Zhulin: “By 2015, pig numbers will be reduced from 7.5 million to about 2 million.” And no pigs may be farmed within 200 metres of minor waterways, and within 100 metres of more important ones, Chen said.

This was intended to improve worsening water quality. A source with the Shaoxing environmental authorities said that despite the measures the city accounted for two of the locations named and shamed when the provincial bureau checked water quality province-wide. Both the urban centre and the wider city had water of sub-Class 5, the worst level of water quality.

And this pollution ends up in the Huangpu River. National People’s Congress representative and professor at East China Normal University Chen Zhenlou said that agricultural chemicals from upstream threaten water quality.

Shanghai relies on water from outside its boundaries, a major headache for its government. It has never managed to do anything effective about upstream pollution.

“The waterways in Shaoxing are just so complex it’s a struggle to monitor them,” complained Ren Weiliang, deputy of the Pinghu water authorities. There are 3,458 waterways in Pinghu alone, stretching for 2,256 kilometres.

And pig farmers are usually very small operations, which makes them harder to regulate. Yuan Liqiang says that most of the farmers in his jurisdiction are households keeping pigs in their yards. There’s so many of them that “sometimes it really is hard to keep control.”

The way waterways are managed is also being re-thought. Ren Weiliang explained that in the past the port, urban, water and environmental authorities were all involved.

“Sometimes they see waste floating downstream but can’t do anything,” said Ren. Pinghu is considering changing the way that works. And to solve problems with cross-boundary coordination the Shaoxing water authorities have set up mechanisms in Xinfeng, Fengqiao and Caoqiao, with boundary rivers being divided up into stretches assigned to different towns.

But those efforts don’t connect up with Shanghai. Zheng Zheng, director of Fudan University Basin Pollution Control Research Center, said that it is currently easy for blind spots to arise between upper and lower stretches of rivers. Shanghai is powerless to regulate its rivers upstream. “We can’t enforce the law, or issue punishments,” Zheng said.

“When pollution crosses boundaries, people try and pass the buck,” Zheng continued. In the end nobody knows who should pay. “A tracing mechanism would solve it.” He went on to explain this would mean 24-hour monitoring, so “as soon as you notice something coming from upstream, it’s the upstream government’s problem – as for which specific body or authority, they can figure that out themselves.”

But water quality on the upper Huangpu – a long-standing source of drinking water – has long been badly damaged. “Water quality on other tributaries was Class 5 or worse as far back as 2004,” recalled one official who participated in a meeting on preventing pollution in important watersheds that year.

Maogang is located by an important source of water, but is still powerless. On January 10 this year, two months before the pig scandal, a leak from a boat carrying chemical containers forced the nearby pumping station to halt work.

To avoid these risks, Shanghai has been forced to look for alternative ways to quench its thirst. “From the sources of the Huangpu to building the Qingcaosha Reservoir at the mouth of the Yangtze, Shanghai is looking for safer water,” said Chen Zhenlou. But the Yangtze isn’t any safer, and its water quality it also under threat.

So Shanghai is even looking at desalinisation. The latest idea is to take water from Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang – “more than 2 billion cubic metres a year.”

• Originally published in Southern Weekend. With contributions from Southern Weekend intern Wang Yue.

Marine alert : Farewell to Sharks…? Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for!

Chinese cuisine-Shark fin soup-01.jpg
Image via Wikipedia

A wake up call from TIME Inc.

Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for — most recently the senses-shattering Transformers: Dark of the Moon, for which the Hollywood great somehow served as an executive producer — but his greatest sin may have been the damage he did to the public image of sharks. His 1975 megahit Jaws didn’t just usher in the era of the summer Hollywood blockbuster; it indelibly imprinted the concept of the shark as killer, as the enemy of man. (And John Williams, who wrote that chilling theme music: you’re not blameless either.) People who had never so much as waded in the ocean became convinced that sharks were a menace, better off dead. As a kid paddling in the New Jersey surf — where I was probably more likely to encounter medical waste than any shark — I know that’s how I felt.

In reality, unlike in the movies, unprovoked shark attacks are extremely rare, and fatal ones even more so. According to the International Shark Attack File, just six people worldwide were killed by sharks last year. But human beings haven’t returned the favor. Each year, fishermen kill as many as 73 million sharks, usually cutting off their fins — which are valued for shark-fin soup, a popular dish in Asia — before tossing the bloody carcasses overboard. Tens of millions of other sharks likely die each year accidentally because of fishing gear set for other species. As a result, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that as many as a third of all shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction, including the great white. Sharks aren’t the true killers — we are.(Jaws: Behind-the-Scenes Photos from the Hectic Shoot.)

That’s the message behind the new book Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, by Juliet Eilperin, the Washington Post‘s national environment reporter. Eilperin journeys from the markets of Hong Kong — the center of the shark-fin trade — to a shark cage in the depths of the Indian Ocean, charting the ancient history of these 400 million-year-old creatures and highlighting the major threats to their continued existence. But Eilperin also explores our disturbed psychological relationship to sharks, asking why even the sight of a single small shark cruising through the water can send a frisson of fear through a swimmer that seems almost instinctual.

Part of that terror may actually stem from a famous attribute of sharks: their need to keep swimming in order to breathe. While that’s not actually true for every species of shark, many do need to employ what’s called ram ventilation in order to respire, swimming forward with their mouths open, letting the water — with its oxygen — flow through the gill slits. As Eilperin writes, “This is one of the reasons people see sharks as scary: cruising along as they display their sharp teeth, they look as if they’re poised to attack at any moment.” What appears to be a prelude to aggression is just a poor shark trying to catch its breath.(Photos: A Closer Look at Sharks.)

Of course, it’s not that Eilperin is arguing that sharks are completely harmless. She notes that island cultures tied closely to the sea have far more interactions with sharks and more reason to fear them. Today surfers seem particularly vulnerable to attacks — sharks swimming from below can sometimes mistake a person paddling a board for a seal. But even those bites rarely lead to fatalities, in part because sharks don’t like the taste of human beings. Eilperin notes the dictum of Christopher Neff, a shark researcher in Australia: we’re in the way of sharks as they scour the oceans for food, but we’re not on their menu.

They, however, are on ours more than ever. Rapid economic growth in China has led to a sharp increase in demand for shark fins — which is a little peculiar since the shark-fin soup for which the animals give their lives is not all it’s cracked up to be. I tried some once in the Chinese port city of Qingdao and was surprised by how thin and watery it is. But the soup isn’t served for the taste. It first emerged as a delicacy in China during the Sung dynasty more than 1,000 years ago as a way for the Chinese to show off their wealth. After a short period during Mao Zedong‘s hard-line rule when such culinary displays were considered politically decadent, the dish is back in favor. And as the number of rich Chinese has grown, so has the value of the shark fins, which can be worth 100 times what shark meat itself goes for — hence the habit many fishermen have of keeping only the fins. Nor is China the only place where sharks are eaten: Japan has shark-fin sushi, and Eilperin notes that shark-fin cat food is even sold in some countries.

If we can’t curb the global appetite for the soup, the future looks very bleak for sharks. The good news is that conservationists are beginning to make some headway, both legislatively and with public opinion. Hawaii has instituted a comprehensive ban on all shark-fin products, making it illegal for any person to sell or distribute anything with shark fin, and California is moving on a similar ban. (Hawaii and California have some of the largest markets for shark fin outside Asia.) On July 5, the Bahamas established new protections for sharks in the 250,000 sq. miles of ocean that surround the island, and this week the national members of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission are meeting in California, where they’ll consider a ban on fishing equipment that has led to inadvertent shark deaths.

To truly save sharks, however, conservationists have to win over consumers in Asia and change the image of shark-fin soup. A lawmaker in the National People’s Congress has introduced legislation banning the trade of shark fins in China, though such laws have little chance of passage now. But prominent Chinese have begun to speak out for sharks — most notably NBA star Yao Ming, who has pledged never to eat shark-fin soup — and there are signs of a dawning conservation movement among younger Chinese. Let’s just hope they haven’t seen Jaws.

Amazing Video: ‘Spinner’ Shark Flies Over Surfer.

Heavy Metal Under the Sea: Sharks Act Calmer When Listening to AC/DC.

Read more:,8599,2081466,00.html#ixzz1RbMWnxdw

China plan aims to reduce pollution… Will it succeed?

BEIJING — China’s leaders unwrapped a new five-year economic blueprint on Saturday that set ambitious goals to raise ordinary people’s incomes, rein in pollution and energy use, and build advanced-science industries in fields like biotechnology and environmental protection.

After five years of scorching growth, averaging 11.2 percent a year, the plan projected an average 7 percent annual rise in the gross domestic product through 2015. The government also pledged a war on inflation, officially pegged at 4.9 percent in January but believed by experts to be considerably higher.

The moves are crucial to shifting China’s economic base away from factory exports toward one rooted in demand for goods and services by increasingly affluent consumers. And that is crucial to the Communist Party’s central aim: keeping the allegiance of a society that wants a bigger share of the nation’s prosperity.

The new plan was the centerpiece of an annual report on the government’s work that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao presented on Saturday to the National People’s Congress, China’s quasi-legislature. Past reports have set broadly similar targets for China’s development, which the report frankly acknowledged had not always been met.

“We are keenly aware that we still have a serious problem in that our development is not yet well-balanced, coordinated or sustainable,” the report said. Among the shortcomings it cited were a widening gap between the rich and poor, an “irrational industrial structure,” sharply rising land and housing prices, and illegal seizures of people’s land and the demolition of their homes by state-backed developers.

Some main economic goals may be especially hard to attain.

Mr. Wen set an 8 percent target for gross domestic product growth this year, implying slower growth in succeeding years. But many economists believe the economy will grow faster, just as growth in 2010 exceeded the government’s target. Soaring land and home prices have also proved difficult to curb.

But the report claimed impressive gains on other important fronts that are at the head of plans for the next five years, including a 19.1 percent cut in the amount of energy used per unit of economic growth, a rapidly expanding service economy and a boom in the high-technology sector. The government opened a national nanotechnology research center and is building 50 engineering centers, 32 national engineering laboratories and 56 other labs focusing on technologies like digital television and high-speed Internet, the report said.

Software sales, integrated circuit production and other advanced products like microcomputers all logged double-digit increases last year.

In the next five years, raising standards of living appears to be perhaps the government’s main priority.

The government pledged to keep prices “basically stable” through 2015, limiting inflation to 4 percent this year, and to raise household income by an annual average of 7 percent, roughly in line with economic growth.

That would break from the past 20 years, in which the growth of ordinary workers’ income has regularly lagged behind the growth in gross domestic product, and consumer spending as a share of the economy has dropped to a record low.

The report called expanding domestic demand “a long-term strategic principle” and pledged to increase subsidies to low-income households, extend broadband Internet to rural areas and smaller cities, and expand retail sectors like chain stores and online commerce.

Retail sales of consumer goods should grow 16 percent in 2011 alone, it stated.

Environmental protection, energy conservation and technology also are allotted ambitious goals: in technology, for example, laying a million kilometers, or 621,000 miles, of new fiber optic cable; and adding 35 million new broadband internet ports, to a total of 223 million; and drafting a plan to support emerging high-technology industries.

The report pledges to further reduce energy consumption per unit of G.D.P. by 16 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions per unit by 17 percent. And for the first time, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, the government will place a cap on total energy use, limiting consumption to the equivalent of four billion tons of coal by 2015.