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The Price Paid by Industrial production

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For years, China’s factories have turned out goods for export markets, but Chinese citizens have paid the environmental price of industrialisation in the pollution of their air and water and in the contamination of their land. But as China’s citizens grow richer and more concerned about the impacts of pollution on their health, there are signs, in one sector at least, that this pattern could be reversed: China’s growing demand for certain kinds of imported food is causing concern about pollution in producer countries.

Industrial ore beneficiation production now accounts for 97% of US pork; China, by contrast, still produces 80% of its pigs in small- or medium-sized facilities. Critics of the trend towards industrial scale pig farming point to the outbreak of “swine flu” in 2009 when H1N1, as the strain was known, caused international alarm with high infection rates, before vaccines were developed. The epicentre of the outbreak, in La Gloria, Mexico, was close to a factory that produced a million pigs a year and was owned by a subsidiary of the US pork giant, Smithfield Foods. Although the outbreak was never sourced to the factory, analysis of the virus strain suggested that its ancestors originated in the United States.

A number of factors are driving China’s appetite for imports: a wealthier population is spending more on larger quantities and a better quality of food, and successive food scandals in China have heightened fears about the safety of home-grown produce. At the same time, China’s own animal husbandry is scaling up, creating more demand for imported soy beans and corn to feed a growing volume of livestock. In a relationship sometimes troubled by trade disputes and geo-strategic rivalries, the US-China trade in food and agricultural products is quietly thriving.

This is particularly true in the pig meat trade. China is predicted to import some 1.4 million tonnes of pork in 2012, up from 1.1 million tonnes in 2011, or around 2% of the total pork consumed in China. China is, of course, a major pork producer itself, but outbreaks of disease among China’s pigs have affected supply, and since 2007 China’s pork imports have been rising steeply: in the first four months of 2012, US pork exports to China were up 142% over the same period in 2011. raw material mill:
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Ironically, domestic consumption of pork in the United States has been declining since 2008, but production remains buoyant, largely because of the thriving export market. And while Chinese consumers see imports as a safer option than home-grown food, US environmentalists are increasingly critical of the environmental impacts of the factory farming methods that now dominate US pig production.

The advantages of industrial-style production, in which pigs are tightly packed in cages in giant production facilities, is that the economies of scale have lowered costs to the point that it costs half as much to produce a pig in the United States as it does in China. Environmentalists, however, point out that everything has a price: they are concerned not only about animal welfare, but also, perhaps more worryingly, with pollution and disease.

The drugs used to contain disease in tightly packed and highly stressed animals can constitute a hazard to human health; and with production concentrated in large units, live pigs are shipped long distances to market, risking the spread of disease to new populations. Industrial units have been highlighted for the noxious waste they produce and the hazards they present to local environments.

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  • Posted On July 17, 2012
  • Published articles 10

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