With no full explanation as to how thousands of pig carcasses came to be floating in the Huangpu River and now a pork trader dead from bird flu, speculation around the cause and impacts of China’s dead pig episode is rife.
On March 31, the government reported that three cases of flu strain H7N9 had been identified in Shanghai and Anhui. Two people have died, one of them a Shanghai pork trader, prompting public fears of a link between the virus and the dead pigs in the Huangpu River.
The government has moved quickly to quash the concerns. Yesterday, on instructions from China’s agriculture ministry, the Shanghai Animal Disease Control Centre tested 34 samples from the dead pigs for bird flu and reported no sign of the virus.
But according to Taiwanese tabloid Want Daily, Chinese netizens remain suspicious. The first discovery of pig corpses in the Huangpu River happened close to the time the victims were infected and dying, and one of the deceased was a Shanghai pork trader. Moreover, the Shanghai government has not reported any poultry deaths in the city or signs of bird flu transmission, and so many believe the virus came from elsewhere.
Guangzhou journalist Zhao Shilong expressed doubts that the public had been told the truth, alluding back to official secrecy surrounding the SARS outbreak in 2003. “They say he died of bird flu, but he sells pork – so what did all the pigs in the river die of?” he asked on his microblog. “They just say there’s nothing to worry about. Nothing’s been learned from all the upset over the SARS cover-up a decade ago, not one bit of progress!”
Concerns have also been raised over food safety. China Enterprise News reported that, in the past, large quantities of already dead pigs – as opposed to pigs to be slaughtered for food – were sold to Shanghai: “You Shanghai folk have no idea how many dead pigs you’ve eaten,” said one restaurant boss.
However, when asked today if the public could trust the pork and chicken on sale in Shanghai, chair of the Shanghai Agricultural Commission Yin Ou said “currently, pork and chicken on sale in Shanghai can be safely eaten.”