China has been anything but immune to environmental criticisms in the past: from Melamine-tainted milk powder, to exploding watermelons, to pesticide-riddled vegetables and antibiotic-induced chickens; the country has already gained a negative environmental track record.
The newest alarming and strange episode involves thousands of pig, dog and duck carcasses found throughout Mainland China. Most recently, in early April, a total of 410 pig and 122 dog carcasses have been found in homes and farms in the village of Dongtun in Yanshi city, central Henan province.
This event occurred very shortly after more than 11,000 pigs were pulled from the Huangpu river in early March and then another 5,600 carcasses were discovered in neighbouring province, Jiaxing. Around 1,000 dead ducks were also found in the Southwestern province of Sichuan in the Nanhe River.
The government received copious amounts of criticism from bloggers for its slow response and explanations for the cause of the mass deaths.
It was first thought that the animals may have died of fumes radiating from nearby chemical factories. Though, after the factories were shut down for thorough investigation, it was revealed that this was not the cause of death. According to state media, it was determined by early lab results to be a specific brand of swine flu known as “porcine cicovirus” that killed the pigs in Huangpu. However, officials reassured that humans could not contract it and that the water had not been contaminated, as the Huangpu river supplies twenty percent of Shanghai’s twenty-three million residents with tap water.
They explained that this phenomenon was due to increased regulation of the meat market, rather than its opposite. farmers selling dead animals that are later sold for consumption was common practice, now discontinued due to the intensification of regulations on the quality of meat.
On March 23, the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) revealed how illegally processed animals—notably pigs—have been sold on the black market for years. Instead of sending animals that die of disease to processing pits—as the law states—black market dealers buy the carcasses off of farmers and sell them for consumption. Forty-six people in Eastern Zhejiang province were arrested earlier in March for processing and selling meat from diseased animals. It was reported that the main instigator for illegally purchasing, slaughtering and selling the meat was charged with six and a half years of prison and fined 800,000 Yuan.
It is because of this crackdown that people have resorted to dumping the carcasses into the nearest body of water. Officials have been asserting that this is a sign that food regulations are improving.
Because an outbreak of a new avian flu strain deemed H7N9 surged suspiciously in tangent with these events, it had been thought that the two were possibly related. Officials have denied this relationship, stating that neither had anything to do with the other.
The H7N9 virus has killed around 23 people and infected 110 in Mainland China, but no evidence thus far has shown that it has spread between humans. Most of the cases were detected in eastern China, though there was also one case in Taiwan. Officials confirmed another outbreak in the central province of Hunan, and another in southern China. A diagnostic test and clinical trials to identify the virus are underway and due in July and August.
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has praised the government for the manner in which it has handled this outbreak in contrast to when it was accused of denying the severity of the scale of the acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2002-2003. “I am quite satisfied with the Chinese response” he has said, adding that the transparency has been “excellent.”
Whether or not the disposal of diseased carcasses and the virus outbreak were connected, the scandal arose amid growing concerns over the country’s environment such as recent record smog levels in Beijing, and water and air pollution affecting nearby villages. It also aggravates the severe water quality issues, as Greenpeace East Asia estimated that 320 million people in the country lack access to clean drinking water. Out of a possible 118 cities, 64 were considered to have a “seriously contaminated” groundwater supply according to a 2011 study by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Any attempt to organize protests over the event’s environmental consequences has been quelled over the months since the first discovery of carcasses was made. A Shanghai poet, Pan Ting, posting a call online for a mass walk along the Huangpu river. Soon after, she was called and detained for questioning by the police. She later posted, “I feel very disappointed. You even shut out a voice concerned about local pollution and your own lives.”
It is left to be known what effect the H7N9 outbreak will ultimately have However, what is certain is that thousands of diseased carcasses in China’s rivers can do nothing but harm the country’s water supply.