A controversial Chinese-invested mega-hogfarm project has generated widespread rejection from civil society in Argentina. Scientists, academics, and members of indigenous communities warn of the health and environmental risks of the farms, which goal would be to export some 900,000 tons of pork to the Asian country— 10 times more than Argentina’s current production.
New pandemics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, greenhouse gas emissions, soil contamination, and excessive water use are some of the potential impacts. “If this agreement comes to fruition, we would be enabling the transformation of our territories into China’s pigsty,” physician Damián Verzeñassi, director of the Institute of Socio-environmental Health (InSSA) of the National University of Rosario’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, Argentina, told Diálogo.
The controversy began in 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when then Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Solá announced a “strategic partnership”with China to supply the Asian giant. On July 6, 2020, after a telephone interview with Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan, Solá pointed out “the progress of a project, already discussed between the Argentine government and the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, on pork production with mixed investment between Chinese and Argentine companies.”
“Argentina will reach 900,000 tons [of pork] in four years and in a prudent process, supervising good practices and incorporating state-of-the-art technology to reduce the environmental impact,” the Argentine Foreign Ministry statement then said.
The project would consist of 25 mega-farms with more than 12,000 sows each and an investment from China of almost$27 billion, according to local newspapers,such as El Cronista and El Economista. The project, however, drew immediate criticism from environmentalists and led to several protests. “This generated some setbacks, at least in the public agenda, but it does not mean that the project has been halted,” InSSA told Diálogo.
Some Argentine provinces moved forward in their bilateral negotiations with China. In November 2021, for example, ChacoGovernor Jorge Capitanich announced an agreement with the Chinese-Argentine company Feng Tian Food for the installation of three mega–hog factories in his province.
Bacteria and flies
To produce more than 20 piglets per sowper year, the Chinese model keeps the animals overcrowded and fed on transgenic cereals, hormones, and antibiotics.
“[Pig farms are] a model that has such high sanitary risks that they are precisely what motivate China to outsource meat production,” warns the book 10 Myths and Truths about Pig Megafarms, written by Argentine journalist Soledad Barruti, Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa,and other experts.
In 2018, for example, the World Organization for Animal Health recognized the spread of multidrug-resistant strains of non-typhoidal Salmonella as a serious problem for human and animal health. In addition, antibiotics, excreted in the urine and feces of pigs, end up in soil, water, and farmlands.
Another problem is the constant presence of flies, mosquitoes, rodents, and bats around these factories. “Flies are vectors for the transmission of at least 65 diseases for people and animals, such as enteric diseases, typhoid fever, dysentery, polio, eye diseases, anthrax, tularemia, leprosy,and tuberculosis,” according to 10 Myths and Truths.
The high water use for pig farm operationsis also of concern. The production of 900,000 tons of meat would mean a water footprint of approximately 12 billion liters, not taking into account the water used for cleaning the facilities, according to Pigsty Health (La Salud Hecha un Chiquero), a book by German think tank Rosa Luxemburg Foundation together with InSSA and the Environmental Research Center of Argentina, which links the effects of the mega-hog farm project with the health of communities and environmental pollution.
“For each kilo of pork, 5,900 liters of drinking water are used, with the ensuingrisk of shortages for other essential activities [residential use and other economic activities],” say the authors of 10 Myths and Truths.
“Geopolitics of disease”
China is the world’s leading producer of pork. It produced 47.5 million tons in 2021, well ahead of the European Union (23.7 million) and the United States (12.5 million), according to Statista. However, the country has faced multiple outbreaks of African swine fever, a lethal viral epidemic, since it was first detected on its territory in August 2018. Since then, China — which culled more than 1 million pigs to prevent the spread of the disease, according to a Reuters report — is in crisis and looking for other countries to set up its mega-hogfarms.
That is what Verzeñassi calls “geopolitics of disease,” Argentina’s La Naciónnewspaper reported. “That’s what we call the strategy of central countries to get rid of industries that pollute and move them [overseas].”