Chinese Dairy Revolution

Giant piles of black manure towering over cornfields, while
rancid-smelling effluent from thousands of cows spills onto the land — this is
the price of a glass of milk in China today.
Large-scale dairy farms have boomed in the Asian giant, as
its near 1.4 billion consumers overcame centuries of cultural reluctance to
embrace the white fluid.
An economic boom and government backing transformed dairy
into a $40-billion-a-year industry, shifting production away from small-scale
producers towards massive megafarms with up to 10,000 cattle — and a lot more
“The smell of the manure… in the summer it’s very intense,”
said Ren Xiangjun, a farmer in Gannan county.
Pointing at a stream of green water escaping from under a
grey brick wall at the giant farm owned by agro-conglomerate Feihe
International, he added: “You can see how it flows right out of the farm.
Dodging packets of animal medicine and syringes littered
nearby, he explained: “The rubbish left after injections is just thrown here.
My land is directly affected.”
When the Feihe farm opened in 2012 in the grassy hills of
the northern province of Heilongjiang it said it had 10,000 cows.
In Daxing village next door, a woman also surnamed Ren said:
“You can see the manure piled up like a mountain. There are no advantages for
us. There is just pollution and noise.”
The dairy industry in China has posted average yearly growth
rates over 12 percent since 2000, due to rising wealth and desire for the
health benefits of calcium.
The ruling Communist party fanned the expansion, with former
Premier Wen Jiabao in 2006 expressing a “dream” that Chinese children should
enjoy a daily 0.5 kilogrammes of dairy products.
But a 2008 scandal over baby formula tainted with the
industrial chemical melamine saw six children killed and more than 300,000
others affected, shaking confidence in the industry.
The crisis was blamed on small-scale farmers using chemicals
to inflate the protein content of their milk as they scrambled to meet demand.
The Chinese government responded by demanding the creation
of large-scale milk production units.
“They thought if we have scale farms they are easier to
regulate and inspect,” said David Mahon, founder of a Beijing-based investment
firm specialising in dairy.
– Unbearable –
There are large scale farms in other countries, such as New
Zealand, but rarely with more than 3,000 cows at a single facility.
By 2014 China boasted 56 farms with 10,000 cows or more,
according to state media — 80 percent of the global total — creating a string
of pollution problems in several provinces.
Estimates say that just 3,500 cows can produce 100,000
tonnes of fluid waste and effluent a year. Chinese farms are required to
process it into fertiliser, but regulations are often flouted.
“There are some areas of China that it’s better to visit in
winter, because of the small hills of effluent. Once it thaws it’s unbearable,”
said Mahon.
“China is learning about dairy farming and the lack of
experience has resulted in such things.”
In Gannan, residents alleged that local officials profited
from the farm and took no action against polluters. media was not able to
verify the claims and local food officials could not be reached for comment.
But attitudes may be starting to shift. The vice-head of
China’s state-backed Dairy Association, Yang Liguo was cited in 2014 as saying
“The bigger the scale, the bigger the environmental, pollution and biosecurity
Mahon said there had been a “genuine rethink” in Beijing and
the Chinese government was “looking more and more to 350 head farms”.
– Like a mountain –
Packing more animals together increases the risk of
illnesses such as brucellosis, which can spread to humans and cause arthritis.
Feihe employee Wang Dali, who once mucked out cowsheds at
the farm in Gannan, contracted brucellosis in 2012, leaving him unable to work,
and now suffers near-constant pain in his joints.
He blames his infection on poor sanitation.
“The cows were packed very close together,” he said,
estimating each had about 12 square metres. “There was no way to treat the
manure. We dug a big hole close to the facility… now it has piled up like a
Feihe denied the residents’ allegations, with a woman who
answered the phone at its Gannan office saying: “These things are impossible.”
Dismounting from a tractor a stone’s throw from the manure
piles in Daxing, one farmer said: “The pollution hasn’t been cleaned up well.
Of course, it has an impact.”

Pointing to corn stalks growing beside syringes, he added:
“We don’t eat these ourselves. We sell them to the market”.

Source: Pakistan Today

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