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What’s Killing Thousands of Pigs in China and the U.S.?

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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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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104 comments

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6:51AM PDT on Apr 20, 2015

thanks for sharing

11:00AM PDT on Jul 22, 2014

Humans are causing the problems. They just happen to be Chinese.

4:19PM PDT on May 17, 2014

Many issues are shown. My first would be why would the chinese dump all those dead pigs in their water supply? The diseases and bacteria in their drinking and bathing water. That is just disgusting and stupid. But then, the US is dumb enough to import pigs from china? Why on Earth for? Anything and everything that comes from china is toxic to some degree. Why is the US risking our food supply with contamination from china.

However, Pat P. is correct when describing the treatment of animals in factory farms. It really is a no win situation.

6:03AM PDT on May 8, 2014

To finish:

OK, so the pigs are fed some medicine – is that so bad? Yes. When you take a course of anti-Bs, your doctor tells you to finish the whole course. This is because if you don’t, then some bacteria will survive to develop a resistance to that anti-B. But sub therapeutic anti-B use means that bacterial resistance builds up. These bacteria are also then resistant against other antiBs used on people rendering antibiotic use in the human population less and less effective. This is a major problem for our society today as the World Health Organisation has issued a statement saying that we could be entering a ‘post-antibiotic era’. Factory farms have a part to play in this and there are urgent calls for sub-therapeutic anti-b use to be totally phased out. However, how would farmers then be able to prevent illness in their closely confined herds? Maybe they should be looking at giving their pigs more space for a start.

6:02AM PDT on May 8, 2014

to continue:

Even if the whole herd died, it would be much less of a loss than a whole herd of hundreds, or thousands, dying in one go.

Also, the argument that factory farms are 'biosecure' is a fallacy. They are not biosecure by any means. They generate huge amounts of pig fecal matter that has to be disposed of somewhere - and it's not done in a biosecure way. The barns need to be ventilated and this air, as it goes in and out, is not sterilised - how could it be?

Probably the most serious issue, as regards factory pig farming and public health however, is the routine use of antibiotics in pigs. Going back to my previous paragraph about the spread of disease in factory farmed pigs, farmers will, of course, do everything they can to protect their business from pig losses due to disease and as the chance of pigs becoming ill and passing on their infections is greatly heightened in a factory farm setting, farmers dose their pigs with small amounts of antibiotics. This acts as a preventative measure to stop their animals becoming ill and also boosts growth so that pigs put on meat much more quickly than they would otherwise. (Scientists, by the way, have no idea why this happens.) This is called ‘sub therapeutic’ antibiotic use.

OK, so the pigs are fed some medicine – is that so bad? Yes. When you take a course of anti-Bs, your doctor tells you to finish the whole course. This is because if you don’t, then some bacteria will survive to develo

6:00AM PDT on May 8, 2014

Hello Bill A: 'The large so called 'factory farms' are not where diseases get a chance to evolve and spread as they try to remain biosecure and stop disease from entering their facilities.' You've mentioned the biosecurity argument a few times in your posts and have argued that 'biosecure' factory farms are better than outdoor 'backyard' facilities because disease can spread more out in the open. On the face of it, this seems like a sensible argument. However, it is not the case. 'Backyard' opererations usually only have a few pigs whereas a factory farm will, by definition, have a large number of animals, sometimes thousands, kept in a confined environment. As large number of animals are in such close contact with eachother, all kept in the same (or just a very few) barns, breathing the same air, standing on the same litter (or slurry, in some cases), it only takes one pig to become sick before the illness spreads like wildfire through the whole herd.

Further, the continual stress placed on these animals, who are not allowed to socialise naturally, move about or carry out their instinctive behaviours means that they are even more susceptible to disease.

A small number of pigs kept in natural surroundings, not stressed out by close confinement are much less likely to become ill and if they do, are less likely to spread to the next one standing less than 2 feet away next to them all day every day. Even if the whole herd died, it would be much less of a loss than a whol

10:21AM PDT on May 4, 2014

WTF?!?! Why in the name of everything decent are we still getting so much food from China?? Make it possible to grow most of our food HERE in U.S.

9:33AM PDT on Apr 29, 2014

That is what happens when you farm intesively! Hate factory farms, they are a threat to human health, the environment, and of course, the animals!!

5:33AM PDT on Apr 28, 2014

"Staying away from pork is an obvious course of action", not true...that is an attempt to force people into doing what you want them to. To stop eating pork would simply get more animals killed, both in the legal ways and in the non-legal ways (such as river dumping). The obvious course of action would be to make conditions in farms better to prevent the growth and spread of disease, stopping the use of mass antibiotics would help to. I'm not quite sure what it is about people pushing a meat free diet and a complete lack of common sense but you've demonstrated it well by coming to such a completely stupid conclusion.

2:51AM PDT on Apr 28, 2014

stop this cruelty of animals

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