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The silver lining to the 6,000 dead pigs polluting Shanghai’s drinking water

The residents of Shanghai, faced with the unsettling thought of 6,000 dead pigs found in a river that supplies their drinking water, are doing their best to look on the bright side: At least the diseased carcasses didn’t end up as pork products for human consumption, as they would have until very recently.

The deepening scandal has been tied to a recent crackdown on dead pig trafficking by Chinese health authorities in Jiaxing, a center of China’s enormous pork industry. Jiaxing is south of Shanghai and upstream on the Huangpu River, where the carcasses were found; it is also the metropolis’s primary source of drinking water. In November, 17 people were arrested for selling more than 1,000 tons of pork from some 80,000 dead pigs (link in Chinese); three of the accused received life sentences. The crackdown is suspected to have contributed to the dumping of the dead pigs in the river: If they couldn’t be sold as meat, they were too expensive to dispose of properly.

There is a lot of research about the best ways to dispose of diseased livestock, including incinerators and “fermentation tanks.” Reading it is enough to turn anyone vegetarian. One oft-cited paper begins, “There is probably no one ‘best way’ to dispose of swine mortality carcasses.” It’s safe to say that dumping them into a river upstream from China’s most populous city ranks at or near the bottom of the list.

Sina Weibo users rounded up by Tea Leaf Nation expressed horror over the scandal.

@晃悠悠2011: “The more I read about it the more I don’t want to brush my teeth or take a shower. Should I die of being dirty or being poisoned. Hard choice!”

@Bossxu, “Think about it. Everyday we may be using water soaked in dead pigs to wash face, brush teeth, cook, make tea and coffee… How do you feel?”

Others were defiantly unbowed about the latest in a long string of adulterated food imbroglios:

@Keither124 “We are the generation that grew up drinking melamine milk, eating broiler chicken and sewage oil. Our immunity systems have been well-trained. Shanghainese people are not easily defeated by some dead pigs.”

And more than a few netizens managed to find a dark vein of humor in the disturbing news. Kai-Fu Lee, one of China’s leading internet entrepreneurs, posted a joke that has been doing the rounds:

Beijinger: “We Beijingers are the most fortunate, we can open the window and have free cigarettes.” Shanghainese: “That’s nothing, we turn on our faucets and have pork chop soup!”

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