Sci-fi comes true as China breeds giants pigs

Hogzilla: This pig weighs 500 kilos — as much as a polar bear. © Reuters

Is this how meat-eating ends? In the face of severe shortages caused by infection and trade wars, a desperate regime starts breeding monster pigs to pacify its angry, rebellious masses.

The huge pig lumbers across its muddy pen. Its weight is roughly the same as a black rhino or a polar bear. Neither its joints not its inner organs are designed to bear this massive burden.

On its back — as if it needed any more to carry — proudly sits Pang Cong, a farmer from the Chinese city of Nanning (population: seven million), the capital of Guangxi province.

A deadly virus has wiped out as much as half of China’s pig population. That’s a big problem for a country whose people’s favourite meat is pork. As prices soar, the government is trying to induce farmers to raise more swine.

But Pang Cong has a better — or at least bigger — idea: to breed gargantuan pigs.

The trend isn’t limited to small farmers like Pang Cong either. It is very much big business. Major protein producers in China, including Wens Foodstuffs Group (the country’s top pig breeder), Cofco Meat Holdings and Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group say they are trying to increase the average weight of their pigs.

These freakishly large animals are never healthy and rarely escape severe suffering.

The biggest domestic pig ever recorded was 1,157-kilo Big Bill from Jackson, Tennessee. Big Bill had to be put down before he could travel to the Chicago World Fair in 1933 because his legs could no longer bear his weight.

Most hugely oversized pigs end up dying from health complications. In 2004, another massive 900-kilo hog named Ton Pig, bred in China, died from a lack of mobility because of its obesity.

Yet China is desperate. Its huge population is already angry about living standards and inequality. China’s premier, Li Keqiang, and the country’s top governing body have called the meat crisis a “national priority”.

In a nation addicted to pork, the unthinkable is already happening: campaigns are appearing in the local press encouraging people to eat less meat. “It makes you fat,” say some adverts. “Vegetables are healthy!” says another.

Is this how meat-eating ends?

Stranger than fiction

Yes! The feted 2017 Netflix film Okja tells the story of a young, South Korean girl who is best friends with a genetically-engineered super pig. The third act reveals a slaughterhouse full of super pigs that are being bred to produce more meat than the villainous Mirando Corporation can sell. Many reacted to the film with horror, and vowed to give up meat. Now, a similar chilling story is happening in real life. Surely, this will tip the balance.

Don’t be too sure! When you put pork in a bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and honey; when you toss them together and set them aside for ten minutes; when you heat oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the pork until almost cooked; when you add a marinade and bubble the mixture until it is sticky — when you do all that correctly, you are creating a little bowl of heaven. Do not expect people to give up 1,000 years of heaven that easily.

You Decide

  1. Is eating meat wrong?
  2. Should breeding unnatural animals for profit be illegal?

Activities

  1. Make a poster using the horrible idea of these giant pigs to encourage a plant-based diet.
  2. Write your own science-fiction outline for a film about the food industry.

Some People Say...

“No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.”

Dr Johnson (1735-1752), English moralist and poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last month, China released consumer price inflation figures that illustrated the growing burden on shoppers. Food costs rose 10 per cent in the past year, the numbers showed, an increase made worse by trade tensions that have resulted in steep tariffs on agricultural products and livestock feed from the USA. For more than a year now, China has fought to contain a vicious epidemic of African swine fever, a highly contagious disease that is harmless to humans, but kills nearly every pig it infects.
What do we not know?
Whether the scale of the problem is worse than reported. Many livestock analysts say the official numbers do not begin to capture the seriousness of the epidemic. Farmers and industry observers in China say that large numbers of African swine fever cases have gone unreported to the authorities, and that many infected pigs end up sold into the market as a result. In some instances, farmers say, local officials have been slow or reluctant to acknowledge infections found in their herds.

Word Watch

Guangxi
Guangxi is an autonomous region in southern China, bordering Vietnam. The area is known for its rivers, caves and towering rock formations.
Swine
Another word for pig.
Chicago World Fair
A giant fair held from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate the technological marvels of America after the depression. The fair's motto was "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts". Visitors saw the latest wonders in rail travel, cars, architecture and even met cigarette-smoking robots.
Li Keqiang
A Chinese politician who is the current Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. An economist by trade, Li is China’s head of government as well as one of the leading figures running the economy.
Okja
A 2017 South Korean and American action-adventure film about a girl who raises a genetically-modified super pig. It was directed by Bong Joon-ho and co-written by Jon Ronson.

Subjects

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