Chinese health authorities are not only concerned about Covid-19. For three years, China has been battling another epidemic, African swine fever. To stem the spread of the disease, production techniques are industrializing with high-tech mega-market projects operating in isolation.
Groups such as Muyuan Foods or New Hope build buildings on several floors – up to thirteen – accommodating nearly 1,000 pigs per level. With several large bars united in complexes, these farms can count up to more than 30,000 pigs. By way of comparison, the average breeding in France concentrates 200 pigs, in Denmark it is 800 and this can rise to 3,000 in the United States, recalls the CyclOpe report on raw materials.
Elevators, robots and automatic disinfection
Near Beijing, New Hope Group has just completed the construction of three five-story buildings on an area of 20 football fields. This “factory”, which we can smell for at least 1 kilometer around, has a production capacity of 120,000 pigs per year.
Everything is done there, not for animal welfare, but to protect farms against the appearance and spread of viruses and bacteria. Animals are transported by elevator, ventilated buildings with an air conditioning unit, robots monitor their temperature in order to detect any abnormal fever, automatic systems distribute food and disinfect the premises.
The ultimate objective of these complexes is to limit as much as possible the contacts with the outside to guarantee the sanitary safety, that it concerns the entry of grain, fodder or workers. In some farms, employees sleep on site and must respect a quarantine on the model of oil platforms.
A food security issue
The sanitary safety of pigsties is an issue of food security and social stability for China. Pork is in fact the main source of animal protein there to the point that the Chinese swallow more than 40% of world production, which amounted to more than 120 million tonnes before African swine fever.
This 2018 epidemic has halved the Chinese pig herd in less than a year – 400 million head in normal times – propelling inflation to levels not seen in eight years. To calm the market, the Chinese government had to urgently draw on the reserves of frozen meat.
The authorities have also modified their agricultural policy to favor industrial breeding to the detriment of backyard farming where only a few pigs are fattened with kitchen scraps and certain waste that causes swine fever. Although the herd is rebuilding at high speed, the epidemic continues to circulate: already 11 outbreaks of swine fever have been detected since the start of the year. They resulted in the slaughter of 2,000 animals, the Chinese agriculture ministry said.