Dead-Pig Tide and the Ongoing Danger of China Epidemics

Dead-Pig Tide and the Ongoing Danger of China Epidemics

The dead pigs started appearing on the riverbanks of Shanghai’s iconic Huangpu River on March 4, and by the weekend, state media were reporting that 900 had been found floating in the river, the source of much of the city’s water supply. The reports didn’t offer an explanation for where the dead pigs had come from or how they had died. Still, one thing was absolutely certain in the articles and the social- media chatter: Nothing good comes from a dead-pig tide.

Early today, Shanghai Daily reported that the number of dead pigs floating in the river had increased to 1,200. Later in the morning, the Global Times, a national paper, reported that the number had crossed “at least 2,200” and was expected to rise. By early evening, the government had retrieved 3,323 carcasses from the river, with more still floating toward downtown.

Most disturbing of all was news — first reported by local suburban papers and spread through microblogs — that upstream pig farms had been struck by an epidemic that had killed 20,000 pigs in January and February. According to these reports, as far back as January, dead pigs were appearing on the sides of roads in suburban Shanghai. News of the epidemic was partly confirmed by state media today.

The virus at work isn’t transmittable to humans, but that’s little reassurance to the 20 million Shanghai residents left to wonder what effect virus-laden pigs have had on the water supply. It’s a question intensified by the efforts of farmers, if not officials, to cover up the epidemic that appears to have caused the dead-pig tide.

Why, if there was a deadly epidemic among livestock outside of Shanghai, was the public not notified? Where were the public- health officials when the disaster became so significant that farmers presumably had no choice but to dump the carcasses in the river that runs through taps all over the city?

For those who follow public health in China, the timing of this epidemic and likely coverup is particularly ironic, coming at the 10th anniversary of the SARS epidemic that sickened thousands, killed hundreds, and shut down Beijing and Hong Kong for several months in the winter and spring of 2003. The suspected cause of SARS was a virus transmitted by bats in south China. The epidemic was blamed on government officials determined to cover up a health disaster exploding on their watch. By the time those officials, and the Communist Party itself, acknowledged that there was a problem, it was too late: The epidemic had crossed national borders and was killing widely.

Over the past several weeks, Chinese news outlets have been running features looking back on the mistakes made, lessons learned and steps taken during SARS outbreak. They call for increased monitoring, unspecified mechanisms for notifying the public and relevant public-health institutions, and greater transparency. Needless to say, whether it was the fault of farmers or public-health officials, none of those standards were met in the run-up to the dead-pig tide.

To be sure, this isn’t SARS, but for a global-health community dependent upon Chinese transparency in the event of another epidemic, official Chinese reticence, if not ignorance, about whatever and whoever led to thousands of virus-laden pig carcasses in Shanghai’s water supply is deeply worrying.

(Adam Minter is the Shanghai correspondent for the World View blog and a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.)

Shanghai Races to Clean River Where 2,800 Dead Pigs Were Found

Shanghai said it restored clean water to parts of a river that runs through the city from which thousands of dead pigs were pulled as authorities conducted checks on the safety of food supplies in the municipality.

The retrieval of dead pigs from the Songjiang section of the Huangpu river has “basically” been completed and clean water has been restored in Maogang, where the carcasses were first discovered, the Shanghai government said on its website. Investigations by food regulatory authorities show that there’s no sign diseased pork has entered the city’s markets, according to the statement.

More than 2,800 dead pigs have been pulled from the Songjiang and Jinshan sections of the Huangpu river, the government said yesterday. It didn’t provide an update on the number of carcasses in today’s statement. Preliminary investigations showed the dead pigs, which include piglets and mature hogs, had floated down the river from neighboring Zhejiang province, it said.

The discovery of the carcasses is the latest scare in China, where the government has come under criticism for its handling of health and environmental issues. The government announced on March 10 a plan for a regulator with broader authority to ensure food and drug safety and said the agriculture ministry will oversee the quality of farm products, underpinning its pledge to crack down on violations and better protect consumers.

Porcine circovirus, a common disease among hogs that isn’t known to be infectious to humans, was found in a sample taken from the river, Shanghai’s agriculture department said yesterday, citing the city’s animal disease control authorities. Tests conducted hourly on the river, which provides drinking water for some of the municipality’s 23 million residents, were negative for other diseases including foot-and-mouth, swine fever, hog cholera and blue ear, it said.

The pigs may have originated from Jiaxing, a pig-farming area in Zhejiang province, according to the Shanghai government. A spokesman for the Jiaxing government known only as Hu said no epidemic has been reported and investigations are ongoing, the China Daily reported today.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Shiyin Chen in Singapore at schen37@bloomberg.net

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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