“Factory farming is causing big problems way beyond the farms where the animals are kept.”
It was a grey day and the rain started to spit as I stood beside a river in the catchment area of China’s Lake Taihu, a well-known tourist spot. I watched aghast as smelly brown liquid poured from an adjacent pig shed and into the water. It’s just one of 2,000 intensive livestock farms reportedly in the Lake’s water basin. It was what I feared; the pollution being seen so dramatically in the lake is coming at least partly from the profusion of pig farms scattered across the countryside here.
The previous day, I was standing on the banks of the lake itself. I was enthralled by the country’s rich birdlife; egrets like pure white candy floss, marsh terns dancing acrobatically, a flash of cobalt-blue from a kingfisher. The misty haze familiar from Beijing had seemingly followed me here. I looked across the lake toward skyscrapers fading in the haze like ghostly shadows. Was it climatic or pollution? I’m still not sure.
I stood entranced by the wildlife before glancing at my boots which were covered in thick oily-green slime; so was the gravel, a fallen branch, anything that lay beside the shoreline. The water was lined with what looked like green paint. The lake had been hit by an algal bloom.
It’s a phenomenon seen around the world and a sign of serious pollution; tiny organisms multiply rapidly, thanks to polluting nutrients getting into the water, before dying and giving way to more of the same. The decaying mass of dead algae strips the water of its oxygen affecting aquatic life in its wake. Livestock farms are not the only source of pollution for this lake; fertilizer run-off, human sewage as well as livestock manure are all implicated.
A tourist map declares Lake Taihu as “endowed by nature”; it certainly is; and “clear water”; well, not now. It wasn’t the first time algal blooms had hit this beautiful lake. In 2007, it was hit so bad that over two million people had their drinking water cut off. The lake has since become a symbol of China’s deteriorating water quality.
Having stood beside the lake, it was a sickening feeling to be upstream hearing squealing incarcerated pigs as another flow of brown slurry slops toward the river. I went eye to eye with the pigs themselves; too many animals in too small a space; being reared intensively; their muck flowing uncontrolled. It brought it home to me; factory farming harms far more than the animals trapped in the system. It renewed my determination to find a better way.
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