Pork, politics and China

Posted by Reading Time: 3 minutes

Pork has an illustrious history in government and politics.  Long associated with wasteful, politically aimed spending – pork barrel politics – pigs have made their home in the slop of governmental politics. In China, local spending on pet projects tends to get the far more sinister moniker of “graft” or “corruption,” and so swine have been noticeably absent from the public discourse on government…until now.

The Shanghai Daily today ran a photo of a man cleaning the sties of the Shanghai Sunsing Livestock and Poultry Co, a central pork reserve base. The cutline beneath the photo stated in bold letters “Cause for sty anxiety.”  Pork prices across the country are going through the roof, as the Zhao Yun reported:

Most Chinese provinces and regions have seen a sharp rise in pork prices. The Ministry of Agriculture attributed the pork price surge to increasing cost of raising live pigs and rising demand for their meat.

This comes weeks after reports, by the international press, of a serious epidemic of what would be identified as blue ear disease in Guangdong province. To read the Shanghai Daily, and most other Chinese press, one would think that the heat of early summer had suddenly inspired the masses to buy more hong xiao rou

No mention of a disease that is ravaging the country’s stable meat source, though the ministry did blame the increasing cost of raising live pigs. Chris O’Brien over at Beijing Newspeak has some excellent insight into this:

Embarrassing figure number one: 300. This is the number of pigs Xinhua reported on May 10 to have died from blue ear disease in southern China. At the time, AP quoted Hong Kong media as saying 1,300 pigs had been infected. Even this figure was put in the shade by a highly informative Reuters report on May 18, which claimed one million pigs had been wiped out over the last year in various parts of China.

But Xinhua missed the statement. I have banged on all week about the need to write something on the issue, preferably a report of the latest situation in Guangdong by the bureau based in the province. Otherwise, silence just shouts “cover-up!” As far as I know there has been no official instruction banning the reporting of blue ear disease from Guangdong. It seems the bureau there is just refusing to report anything. Nothing new to write, it says. Is it being gagged by the local government or is it just being incredibly lazy? I have no idea.

So, while the one million figure (the number for the whole year) – in fact I feel I need to put it into numbers for extra effect: 1,000,000 – is freely banded around the international press, Xinhua last reported 300. And then comes a direct consequence of the epidemic – the price of pork “flies to a new high” according to a report by the China Daily. It was a woeful piece of journalism. Apparently the price of pork had risen “due to a decrease in the number of pigs” but there was not one mention of blue ear disease in the story. Instead the blame was placed on the rise in corn price and this hilarious reason:

With pork prices going through the roof, a new danger is emerging, inflation. As the Financial Times reports:

Soaring pork prices are also expected to add to inflation, already under pressure from rising food prices in other areas.

“The surge in pork prices will likely push year-on-year CPI inflation to above 4 per cent very soon,” said Hong Liang, of Goldman Sachs, in Hong Kong, in a research note.

“Meat constitutes about 7 per cent of the CPI basket, and its price pressures are likely to spread to eggs, fish and other food products.”

Although 4 per cent is above the central bank’s unofficial “tolerance rate” of three, core inflation remains low.