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October 2, 2007

'China Bloggers Stew About Olympic Pigs'

Ygououh

Truth is stranger than the bizarre headline above that would've been right at home in the late, lamented Weekly World News.

Turns out it appears on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal Marketplace section, over a story by Juliet Ye about China's top secret strategic pork reserve meant to ensure disease-free food for next year's Olympic athletes.

Long story short: "The pig farms are in 10 locations carefully chosen with attention to the quality of air, water and soil, and they are being kept secret for 'anti-terrorism' purposes."

Memo to PETA: Don't even think about it.

Here's the article.

    China Bloggers Stew About Olympic Pigs

    Some fed-up Chinese just want to eat like pigs.

    In recent weeks, news that hogs are being specially raised to feed the athletes at the next year's Beijing Olympics has spurred an outcry on the Internet. The pigs are reportedly being fed an organic diet and getting daily exercise, treatment that has China's bloggers variously mocking, lamenting and raging online.

    "I would rather be a pig for the Olympics than a human in a coal mine!" wrote a blogger who calls himself Shiniankanchai, referring to the reported deaths of thousands of workers in China's mines so far this year.

    Shiniankanchai's sentiments soon spread to other blogs and to Tianya, the biggest Chinese-language Web forum. They reflect a growing frustration among ordinary Chinese with tainted food, dangerous or inhumane work environments and corrupt officials — a frustration that is being expressed with increasing frequency.

    It's "just ridiculous!" said Jane Xun, a 24-year-old employee of a Shenzhen logistics company, in an interview after she posted her own online objections to the pig-rearing program for the Olympics. "It actually shows how serious the food-safety problem is. What am I going to eat?"

    When it comes to the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer, the Chinese government is taking no chances. From cloud seeding to disperse pollution in the capital, to crackdowns on visa violations to winnow crowds, to a massive construction project aspiring to the grandest of Games infrastructure, Beijing is working strenuously to cover itself with glory come August.

    But a program to raise pigs specifically to feed the Olympic athletes, both the Chinese and those from other countries, is seen by many citizens as a sign of mad excess and pandering to foreigners.

    Pigs are such an important commodity in China that the nation has a strategic pork reserve, a little like the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to stabilize prices. China's pork reserve releases frozen meat and live hogs in a supply emergency. A recent jump in the price of pork after an outbreak of blue-ear disease among pigs played a part in pushing up China's inflation rate to 6.5% in August — a serious concern for a government worried about an overheating economy, asset bubbles and a disgruntled rural populace.

    Coming in the wake of reports of tainted Chinese food and toys, news of the Olympic-pig project are adding fat to the fire for some citizens. The special pigs "show how serious our food safety issue is," Shiniankanchai commented in an Internet posting. "While the government is devoted to solving the athletes' pork-eating problem, common people are asking: How about the food safety problem for people living in this country?"

    The Olympics pork supplier, Qianxihe Food Group, or Lucky Crane, as the company brands itself in English, held a press conference in Beijing in August to announce the project. According to reports in the Chinese press, which widely covered the press conference, the company said its aim is to provide athletes with the purest of meat, free of any substances that could cause them to fail doping tests.

    "Olympic Pigs Doing Exercise Two Hours Every Day" was the headline in the Chinese-language newspaper Beijing News. The pig farms are in 10 locations carefully chosen with attention to the quality of air, water and soil, and they are being kept secret for "anti-terrorism" purposes, various press accounts cited the company saying. Press reports also quoted the company spokesman saying that the animals enjoy organically grown feed, are spared steroids and hormones and are also being given Chinese herbal medicines.

    In an email, a Lucky Crane spokesman acknowledged that the company held the press conference but said it isn't accepting any further interviews on the topic because Bocog, the Olympics organizing committee, has strict rules that preclude the company from making any further comments.

    Bocog confirmed that Lucky Crane is the exclusive pork supplier for the Beijing Games but declined to comment on the so-called Olympic pigs. Luo Yunxiang, a member of the panel of experts for food safety for the Beijing Olympics, said "it is acceptable for us to take certain irregular and temporary measures to guarantee the absolute safety of food supplied during the Beijing Games." Mr. Luo said the Olympic pork may be distributed to the general market after the Games.

    In a sign of discord even within official circles, Qiao Xiaoling, director of research and development at the China Meat Research Center in Beijing, a national research organization under the nation's main food regulator, predicted that the Olympic pork would cost at least twice as much as pork now on the market and observed that most Chinese people couldn't afford it. Miss Qiao said there is no reason to believe ordinary pork is unsafe to eat — but she acknowledged that "pork produced through these special methods may be better."

    Not all the Internet commentators have been critical. Laura Yang, who works for a Shanghai consulting company and expressed her support for the program on the Internet, said in an interview that "the safety of food supplied to athletes during the Beijing Games is crucial in building our national image."

    Most, though, seem skeptical at best. Leon Wang, a 23-year-old employee in the sports-affairs bureau of the city of Nanjing, mused in a blog posting that "it may be a good thing to have a special pork provider, since [the government can] shift the responsibility to someone when bad things happen."

    Jessica Wu, 24, a Nanjing export-company employee who posted her own reservations on the Web, said in an interview she can "understand that the country wants to hold a glorious Games" but that "they can always find reasons to justify [giving] priority to the elite groups."

October 2, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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