Friday, August 14, 2020

Argentine to be China's Pig Farm

A plan to turn Argentina into one of China’s main pork suppliers is being sold to the public by authorities as a $3.5bn (£2.7bn) investment that will generate $2.5bn in annual pork exports and provide 9,500 new jobs. China hopes that South American pork can make up for its bruising losses after the recent spread of African swine fever (ASF) through its own hog herd, killing millions of animals. A survey of 1,500 Chinese pig farms last year showed that 55% had abandoned plans to raise pigs again because of the risk of future disease.

Chinese and Argentinian officials are hammering out a framework to turn Argentina into a pork powerhouse with the installation of 25 hog farms of about 12,500 sows each to supply China’s growing appetite for pork.  The national environment ministry has not yet been involved in the negotiations.

This would practically double Argentina’s current 350,000 sows and boost production from 700,000 yearly tonnes today to 900,000 tonnes in four years’ time. Each plant will be an integrated installation, from the processing of grain for animal feed to hog rearing, slaughterhouse and packaging.

Meeting China’s target would require hundreds of thousands of additional hectares to be turned over to maize and soybean crops, likely adding to Argentina’s runaway deforestation in its fragile Gran Chaco forest, the second largest forest in South America after the Amazon, according to Farn, an environmental and natural resources foundation based in Buenos Aires.

 The proposed project does not sit well with local environmentalists. “You could almost say China is outsourcing the risk of a repetition of such outbreaks by moving production offshore,” said biologist Guillermo Folguera.  “Hog farms produce pathogens, bacteria and viruses that can pass from animals to humans,” Folguera said.

Pigs have a unique capacity to incubate viruses that can bounce between humans, birds and pigs, swapping genes in a process called “reassortment”, which is why hogs are considered potential “mixing vessels” for deadly future pandemics by some epidemiologists.

Argentina’s weak environmental laws are not up to the task of dealing with mighty agroindustrial corporations. “Argentina doesn’t even have a national environmental law,” said María Di Paola, an economist at Farn. “This means that each of the plants will be under not federal control, but under the weaker control of provincial authorities.” So far those authorities have failed to control the the fires that started raging in February in the vast delta of the Paraná River, decimating the wildlife in one of Argentina’s most important natural habitats.

“Generating thousands of new jobs may be tempting, but the truth is we don’t know what the societal, environmental and health costs for neighbouring districts and the population in general will be,” said Di Paola.

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