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High-tech pig farming


roddy
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Found this read from the Guardian on how the Chinese pig industry is levelling up interesting. 

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 The farming structure was already in place; Alibaba Cloud just helped optimise it.

The author has a book coming out on similar themes, which looks quite fun. I like the writing in the article.

 

Anyone with an interest in pigs might want to read... oh, it's behind a registration wall now? Anyway, here's the link. Includes the brilliant phrase 'porcine non grata'

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That was interesting. From my point of view it's a nightmare rather than a miracle. It mentions the retreat from a whole variety of local breeds able to survive on domestic swill to a hybrid sensitive to even slight environmental stresses and susceptible to novel diseases that spread rapidly in a homogenised herd.

I came back after graduation to work in rural development and the microfinance loans we issued were usually spent on piglets; a woman would raise a couple, one for the family to eat and one to sell and that would earn a bit of cash after counting in feed costs. Of course that sort of production can't provide for modern increased demand in a more urbanised society but the answer is not more meat cheap, the environmental and health risks are too great and any technological solution risks catastrophic failure for a gain that is ultimately only one of lifestyle rather than necessity.

Food safety and security are really crucial issues and seem to garner far less attention than they deserve. I'e been a vegetarian for decades so not really qualified to pronounce for others' needs but would still claim the best future would be one of lower meat consumption coming from extensive production methods, not clever dick large scale operations marking time until disaster strikes.

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I'm already inside the Guardian's paywall, so had forgotten about that.

13 hours ago, Jim said:

From my point of view it's a nightmare rather than a miracle.

I do wonder if at some point, for both health and environmental reasons, China will start pushing less meat eating more aggressively. Quick google indicates current average meat intake is twice the recommended - which will be unevenly distributed, of course. Would be a hard sell. 

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36 minutes ago, roddy said:

I do wonder if at some point, for both health and environmental reasons, China will start pushing less meat eating more aggressively.

As I understand it, the cuisine was largely based on meat as an addition to dishes rather than great chunks - bit of diced pork for savour etc., as most people obviously had to make a little go a long way. One of the problems of growing affluence and boom-speed development, you can increase consumption but by and large it's bad for public health and the environment. 

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Meat in China is cheap and readily available, but I have yet to sit at a family table where meat is the main dish as a juicy steak would be in the US, for example.


At your average Chinese home you'll only see one plate of meat for every 2 or 3 plates of vegetables (+ your own super stuffed bowl of rice), and in most cases that "meat" is bony anyway, so there's not much of it to start with (bony meat = better quality). And since food in China is shared, there are unwritten rules as well: only elders and guests are allowed to hog the meat, and even them will make sure that they eat the minimum.

 

So yeah, all things considered meat consumption in the country might be high when we look at the numbers, but it's not much different to the West when it comes to your average household and for many of them it's even below the threshold (and again, that's despite meat being cheap here: nationwide the pork and chicken 斤 is under 10元, beef around 20元). I actually blame China for my unwilling transition to the so-called "flexi-veganism", since I am always on the fence between eating a burger or some fried asparagus with long beans on the side and a sprinkle of 老干妈.

 

I am also talking about SW and Western China here (excluding Xinjiang) since it's what I am most familiar with. And it's of course a different situation when it comes to eating out, dishes where meat is a necessary ingredient (although as @Jim points out and which is still relevant to this day, it might be the case that meat is only sprinkled to add flavour) or in special events where meat is actually the start of the show, like pork at 清明节 or mutton soup at 冬至 (in Sichuan at least, not sure of other places).

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  • 1 month later...

Have ordered the book (Blackwells, Amazon don't seem to have any stock in the UK). I have no idea if I'll actually read it, but it seemed rude not to buy it at this point. I suspect it's one of those books that if I do read it, will spur the reading of other books, I've already got half a dozen tabs open just from clicking through the author's Twitter feed a bit.

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On 10/8/2020 at 1:26 PM, Jim said:

Food safety and security are really crucial issues and seem to garner far less attention than they deserve. I'e been a vegetarian for decades so not really qualified to pronounce for others' needs but would still claim the best future would be one of lower meat consumption coming from extensive production methods, not clever dick large scale operations marking time until disaster strikes.

Vegetarian life styles definitely have much less impact on the planet and less meat consumption would benefit the planet (albeit, I'm still a meat eater). 

 

One important point is that factory farms are far more resistant to infection than traditional farms.  Even before African swine fever, factory farms practiced extreme infection control.  China has been so hard hit by African swine fever because many of its pig farmers use traditional farming techniques that have little or no infection control.  

 

As humans, we're really lucky that Covid has a low mortality rate when compared to African Swine Fever, which is incredibly deadly to members of the pig family.  

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

One important point is that factory farms are far more resistant to infection than traditional farms.

I don't think that's a given, or rather that they provide greater resilience. Certainly larger farms are almost always more technically capable of a robust hygiene regime but it's more the loss of diversity that is a risk factor - that was lost from smaller farms too with the introduction of improved breeds from outside not necessarily so well adapted by higher yielding when things are going well but in a reduced meat consumption scenario the older hardier breeds could be made viable again. That means failures and outbreaks are more easily contained, whereas the fear with larger technical solutions is if they fail, they fail big, plus they tie society to a particular kind of relationship with food production. I realise transitioning/regressing is a big ask given current consumption patterns but it would be my preferred long-term aim otherwise we build fragility through complexity into the system.

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  • 3 weeks later...

First they facially recognised the pigs, but I did not speak out, as I was not a pig. More seriously, the article does talk about how the tech is pushing out the small scale farmers.

 

Still not read the book. I'm considering as ban (or at least limit) on new book purchases for 2021 to help clear a backlog.

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