China is taking pig biosecurity to a new level-there are actually 13 stories.
This is the height of a building in southern China, where more than 10,000 pigs are held in an apartment complex equipped with restricted access, security cameras, in-house veterinary services and carefully prepared meals.
The seemingly luxurious conditions represent the most advanced biosecurity methods in which pigs-China’s main source of meat-are protected from viruses, including the devastating African swine fever that wiped out half of the country’s live pigs within two years. Before the epidemic.
These huge vertical farms, nicknamed “Pig Inns”, were built by companies such as Muyuan Foods and New Hope Group, following the strict control measures adopted by major suppliers in other countries to prevent the outbreak of this devastating disease.
Rupert Claxton, the meat supervisor of consulting company Gira in the UK, said that China is copying best practices from Europe and the United States to close its biosecurity gap. He has already provided advice to farmers and businesses. Ten years. “In 20 years, it did what Americans might have done in 100 years,” he said.
In 2018, the deadly African swine fever made pigs sick, just like Ebola killed humans, causing a dramatic outbreak in China. Within a year, about half of the country’s over 400 million pigs were wiped out—more than half of the entire annual output. The merger of the United States and Brazil-leading to soaring prices and unprecedented imports.
Food security has become a top priority, and as inflation soars to its highest level in eight years, the government has to resort to emergency frozen meat sources to cool prices. A new agricultural policy was formulated to accelerate the transition to large-scale industrial operations in backyard farms, which traditionally used raw food waste and swill to raise pigs-the main source of African swine fever.
Now, due to such aggressive expansion of production capacity by large farms, the number of domestic pigs is recovering faster than expected. Wholesale pork prices fell so much that it triggered the government’s new alert system, prompting the authorities to start buying pork for the national reserve and supporting the market.
Despite this, the Ministry of Agriculture of China stated in July that the virus threat still exists and 11 incidents have been reported so far in 2021, prompting the culling of more than 2,000 pigs. The Ministry of Health stated that the emergence of new strains with milder symptoms and a longer incubation period complicates the work of detecting and responding to the epidemic.
In developed countries, pig production is dominated by smaller farms. This situation has existed for decades in the United States, Denmark and the Netherlands. These countries have the best biosafety standards in the world and have never reported an outbreak of African swine fever in recent years.
Today, large pig farms that do not rely on other farms to raise sows, feed, and labor-which may introduce pathogens-are the backbone of China’s food security. As of 2020, 57% of the country’s live pig production comes from farms that supply more than 500 pigs each year. Before the outbreak, only about 1% came from larger suppliers.
New Hope Group recently completed three five-story buildings in Pinggu District, east of Beijing, with an area equivalent to 20 football fields, or 140,000 square meters (1.5 million square feet). The facility can be smelled one kilometer away and will eventually produce 120,000 pigs per year, making it the largest pig farm in Beijing.
According to the person in charge, Gong Jingli, it is equipped with robots that monitor animal fever, air filtration, automatic feeding and disinfection systems. The access request was denied on the grounds of biosecurity.
This is partly because the size of these farms means more risks. Since thousands of pigs are kept nearby, infectious diseases may spread rapidly.
Implement strict agreements to minimize risks. Workers need to shower and change clothes when entering and exiting the facility—just like a scientist working in a biosafety laboratory. The watch must be placed outside.
Tom Gillespie, an American pig veterinarian with 40 years of experience, visits farms in Asia every year. He said that before entering a factory in China, he was asked to take off his wedding ring but was allowed to wear it. glasses. He said that this requirement is a response to African swine fever. Once operators become more familiar with managing biosafety risks, the requirement may be relaxed.
Some large farms have built staff dormitories in an attempt to restrict workers’ contact with the “outside”-Gillespie said this strategy is difficult to implement in other countries.
So far, due to animal welfare and environmental issues, China’s large farms have also avoided many restrictions that apply to overseas counterparts.
“In Europe and the United States, we have restrictions on the size of pig farms because people are just opposed to them-they don’t want to live next to these huge fields,” Gila’s Clarkston said. “In China, this does not seem to be the case. If it is decided that a pig farm is needed, then space is available.”
In a country that lacks ample space, vertical expansion is a popular choice. Rapid urbanization has reduced the land available for agriculture, and environmental regulations have made intensive animal production in metropolitan areas increasingly difficult.
New Hope’s Gong said that compared with traditional farms with the same number of pigs, high-rise buildings can reduce the amount of farmland used by one-third, and they are flexible in terms of location, because some can be built on the mountain. Gong said that the wastewater from the Pinggu plant is treated and used to irrigate nearby orchards, while solid waste is converted into fertilizer.
Muyuan Foods, China’s largest pig farmer, said it has land that can feed 100 million pigs. The second largest Jiangxi Zhengbang Technology said its herd may eventually reach a similar size.
The rise of large-scale pig farms also reflects the transformation of China’s diet. Beijing has focused on fighting hunger and poverty alleviation in the past few decades, but rapid economic development and rising incomes mean that China’s 1.4 billion people are eating more meat, eggs, and other animal protein. This promotes more intensive animal production.
“China is the world’s largest consumer of pork, and I don’t think this situation will change easily or soon,” said David Ortega, an associate professor of food and agricultural economics at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “Rebuilding the pork industry is the government’s national priority.”