What’s Killing Thousands of Pigs in China and the U.S.?
It all began in China.
Most recently, Chinese state media reported last Thursday that at least 170 dead pigs were found bobbing in a tributary of China’s second-longest waterway, the Yellow River, in northwestern Qinghai province. This is just the latest in a string of similar incidents that have raised fears over food safety, since the river is the major source of irrigation water for nearby regions.
No one knew where they had come from or when they had arrived. Locals just knew that these pigs were dead.
“The source of the dead pigs is still under investigation,” stated China’s state media.
Autopsy results have ruled out the possibility of zoonosis, an infectious disease. The pigs will undergo further tests by the provincial center of animal disease control and prevention.
This is an almost identical scenario to last month, when 157 dead pigs were fished out of a Yangtze River tributary, and officials said they had no idea what was causing the pig deaths.
The story is repeated in other parts of China: around 500 dead pigs are recovered every month from a Chinese reservoir in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state-run media reported in March.
At Least 16,000 Dead Pigs in 2013
It was a similar story last year, when 6,000 dead pigs were pulled from Shanghai’s waterways in three days. As Care2′s Kristina Chew reported, local authorities were quick to assert that the presence of thousands of dead pig carcasses in the river had no effect on the water supply, although the blogospere begged to differ.
And in fact, the number of pig corpses found in the Huangpu River, which provides 22 percent of the water supply for Shanghai, grew to around 16,000. Officials questioned farmers in the neighboring province of Zhejiang about dumping the pigs but got nowhere.
Pork is the most popular meat in China, whose meat consumption has increased as more people’s incomes have, and the grisly findings in the Huangpu raised more than a few questions about food safety in general in China.
Why are these pigs dying? Who is putting these corpses into China’s rivers? Is the water safe to drink? What killed the pigs?
Industry analysts say sick pigs are sometimes dumped in rivers by farmers hoping to avoid paying the costs of disposing of the animals by other means.
Some media reports suggested that the pigs came from Jiaxing, in Zhejiang province, where over 20,000 pigs have been found dead in villages since the beginning of the year because of swine flu. The public was anxious about the potential pollution caused by the decaying pig carcasses, but local authorities quickly asserted that the dead pigs had not polluted the water supply. Shanghai’s water comes from Yangtze River and authorities claim the pigs died of cold weather, not a virus.
Other theories included a police crackdown on the pork black market that forced traders to kill and dispose of their pigs. Yet another hypothesis held that farmers were feeding their pigs bits of arsenic to make their skin shine — and had perhaps gone a bit too far.
So what’s really going on?
And Why Are So Many Baby Pigs Dying in the U.S.?
Scientists in the U.S. may have the answer.
According to the Associated Press, estimates of how many pigs have died in the U.S. in the past year vary, ranging from at least 2.7 million to more than 6 million.Their deaths are the result of a virus never before seen in the U.S., which is why it is spreading so fast.
Scientists think porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don’t know how it got into the U.S. or spread to 27 states since last May. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.
PED thrives in cold weather, which is why researchers believe the death toll in the United States has soared since December.
Staying away from pork is an obvious course of action, but it would be great if scientists from the U.S. and China could get together to solve the mystery of what’s causing all these animals to die.
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