China is suffering a lethal epidemic; African swine fever has led to the deaths of a third of the country’s pigs. The resulting pork shortage has sent the value of healthy pigs soaring, and farmers in China are reportedly breeding bigger and bigger porkers to cope with the current crisis. According to Bloomberg, one pig in Guangxi province weighs as much as a polar bear. That's some pig.
The pig in question reportedly weighs 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) and lives on a farm in Nanning in southern China. Animals of this size can fetch up to 10,000 yuan ($1,400) when they go to slaughter.
China is the world’s biggest pork consumer, accounting for about half of all pork eaten worldwide. In a country where pork production is so important, farmers are having to come up with solutions to try to save the industry’s bacon.
To improve profits, pig farms – both large-scale and small – are attempting to fatten up their profits by upping the size of their animals, rather than the size of their herds. Having been stung by swine fever outbreaks, farmers are struggling to replenish their herds as the prices of piglets and sows have increased and there are fears that valuable new herds may become infected.
By now you’re probably thinking this sounds worryingly like the plot of the movie Okja, where a big company breeds “super pigs” to maximize pork production, and chaos obviously ensues. While China’s chunky hogs aren’t quite as extreme, they are certainly plump, even by pig standards. As Bloomberg reports, pigs going to slaughter normally weigh about 110 kilograms (242 pounds). Now, that average has climbed to 140 kilos (308 pounds). In Jilin in northeastern China pigs usually weigh around 125 kilograms (275 pounds), but farmers are under pressure to ramp that weight up to as much as 200 kilograms (440 pounds).
Since the first case was reported in August 2018, China has lost at least 100 million pigs to African swine fever, an aggressive virus that naturally infects wild swine like warthogs, bushpigs, and wild pigs. It also infects domestic pigs and has very high mortality rates, often killing the animal within a few days of becoming infected. The scale of the current outbreak of the disease, which is sometimes dubbed “pig Ebola”, is unprecedented. The virus is not confined to China and has spread to nearby countries like South Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam.
Pork is a staple food in China and other East Asian countries, but rationing is reportedly having to take place around the country. Some projections suggest that as many as 350 million pigs might have to be culled this year – that’s a quarter of pigs on the planet.
Although fatter pigs might sound like a promising solution to fewer pigs, the animals can suffer serious health complications and die early. Previous monster pigs, such as Big Norm, Ton Pig, and Tennessee’s Big Bill, the heaviest porker to ever grace the planet, all died from complications related to their immense weight. China’s new league of hogs might produce more meat, but they might not be a sustainable solution.