Pigs blamed for Malaysian crisis
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:
KUALA LUMPUR––The ongoing
Asian fiscal crisis, global pork price collapse,
and panic in Malaysia over lethal disease outbreaks
might matter least to the pigs taking
the brunt of the human terror. Come good
times or bad for humans, pigs get killed.
As March ended, nearly 3,000
Malaysian troops shot or gassed pigs in ditches,
in districts where as many as 900 farmers
allegedly left the animals to starve or roam.
Eleven thousand villagers were
evacuated before the shooting began.
One million pigs were to be killed
by April 1, but the massacre reportedly
progessed at a fraction of the intended speed
due to pigs putting up frantic resistance.
“In other areas, witnesses said hog
farmers beat to death their own pigs while
others dumped pigs into mass graves to be
buried alive,” wrote Andy Wong for
The Singapore Armed Forces
meanwhile moved to kill all the wild pigs on
Pulau Tekong island––believed to be the only
pigs in Singapore other than zoo specimens.
As of March 27, two pig-linked illnesses
had killed at least 63 Malaysians.
Japanese encephalitis, JE for short, killed
18; a newly found Hendra-like virus often
misdiagnosed as JE apparently killed the rest.
Pigs do not actually transmit JE,
but were blamed for it because the culex mosquitoes
who do carry JE often breed in pig
wallows. JE kills about 10,000 people a year
in other parts of Asia. Malaysia, however,
has had only three previous outbreaks.
Other illnesses reportedy spreading
in Malaysia were associated with pollution
from decomposing pig carcasses.
The future of the Malaysian pork
trade came into doubt after Thailand banned
imports of Malaysian pigs and pork, while
Singapore banned Malaysian pigs, pork, and
horses. Malaysian pork sales fell 70%.
Post-crisis, Malaysian pig farmers
will strive to regain market share with depleted
breeding stock, little cash, less credit,
obsolescent facilities, angry neighbors,
and––so far––no firm promise of compensa
tion for the loss of their herds.
Malaysian government credibility
was hurt by repeated assertions in late 1998
that the “JE outbreaks,” the only illness then
recognized, were “already over.”
Raising about 2.5 million pigs per
year, the export-oriented Malaysian pork
industry is dominated by ethnic Chinese.
Ethnic Chinese form about a third of
the Malaysian population, including most of
the mercantile class. But more than half of all
Malaysians are ethnic Malays, mostly
Muslim, who don’t eat pork, consider pigs
unclean, and often resent Chinese influence.
“Hollywood movies are censored to
remove scenes with pigs in them, and the
Malay word for pig is not used on TV,” the
International Herald reported on March 24.
“The Muslim opposition, which wants to see
Malaysia become an Islamic state, could call
for a ban on pork,” the I-H continued, citing
remarks by Malaysian Strategic Research
Centre executive director Abdul Razak
“The slaughter operation could also
engender resentment among Malaysia’s
Muslims in general,” the I-H added. “The
vast majority of the soldiers, police, and civil
servants involved are Muslim,” who might
feel themselves tainted by handling pigs.
Trying to lower tensions and protect
the pork industry, the Malaysian government
on February 11 barred health officials below
the cabinet level from addressing the media.
On March 24 the government also banned publication
of pig massacre photos, which were
blamed for killing the public appetite for pork.
But leaders of the opposition Democratic
Action Party and Malaysian Chinese
Association insinuated that the government
had moved slowly because most of the people
falling ill or losing jobs were ethnic Chinese.
“Epidemiology has shown that the
disease originated from pig farms that are
filthy,” the Sarawak Tribune editorialized. “Is
it true that Muslim enforcement officers find it
uneasy to go to the farms on religious
grounds? If so, a solution must be found.”
The Malaysian government in midMarch
announced it would vaccinate 30,000
pig farmers and 262,500 children who live
near pig farms against JE; vaccinate all pigs
who are not killed; and fog pig farms with
pesticides to kill JE-carrying culex mosquitoes.
The human vaccinations were suspended
on March 26, however, as Muslim
Malays balked at innoculation with a product
cultivated in pigs.
Malaysian veterinary services director-general
Mohamed Nordin Mohamed Nor
also called for consolidating small pig farms
into large operations that can be better policed.
Pig farmers in several districts were ordered to
relocate to state-built modern confinement
megafarms after the Chinese New Year.
A similar order issued in Indonesia
brought rioting on January 25 near Jakarta,
after one farmer refused to move and a Muslim
mob torched his facilities instead.
Thus far, however, there has not
been similar violence in Malaysia.
The pig-killing began as word of the
Hendra-like virus circulated amid rumors that
mass vaccinations were failing.
The Hendra virus was first identified
in Australia in 1994, when it killed 15 horses
and three people who worked with horses. It
apparently spread from flying fox bats.
Another Hendra-like virus, called
Menangle virus, was later found in Australia.
It appears to cause stillbirths and birth defects.
Commented Charles Calisher, viral
disease moderator for the online emerging disease
network ProMED-mail, “JE may occur in
the Hendra-like virus epidemic areas, but it is
undetermined what proportion of the human
illnesses are due to JE and what proportion due
to the Hendra-like virus. That characteristic
illnesses have occurred in people who had
received two or three doses of JE vaccine
speaks to a non-JE etiology. We have no
reports of illnesses in the families of pig farmers,
or of cases occurring at a reasonable distance
from pig farms, suggesting that direct
contract with pigs or excretia, not arthropods,
is the chief mode of transmission.”
Appeals by some Malaysian leaders
for more kindness toward animals, concurrent
with the killing, seemed incongruous.
“Enhancing and promoting the
human/animal relationship is one of our most
important duties and obligations,” Malaysian
agriculture minister Amar Sulaiman Daud
declared in a February speech to the 15-monthold
National Animal Welfare Foundation.
Sulaiman suggested that cats, chickens,
ducks, and cage birds might be reared in
schools to teach children appreciation of animals.
NAWF deputy chair S. Sivagurunathan
added buffalo and goats to the list.
But both omitted mention of pigs
and dogs. Dogs, like pigs, tend to be considered
unclean by Islamic Malaysians.
Works minister Seri S. Samy Vellu
on March 8 told reporters that reading about an
arson fire at a traveling animal show had
spoiled his 63rd birthday.
“I feel really sad after seeing a picture
in the newspaper of several people carrying
a dead tiger,” Samy Vellu said. Samy
Vellu also noted the deaths in the fire of 30
snakes, 10 spiders, an albino mongoose, and
several dozen other small mammals.
Malaysia has had two years of
calamity, beginning with the drought-accelerated
forest fires of mid-1997. The Indonesian,
Malaysian, and Thai economies all fell soon
afterward, pulled down by fire damage to their
forest products and agricultural sectors.
As the economic disaster rippled
through Asia, financial stress eroded demand
for pork, with global impact. Pig farmers losing
money and often losing their farms to
banks or consolidators big enough to buy them
out protested, demanding government aid, in
Britain, Ireland, at least three Canadian
provinces, Poland, and France.
The decline of the pork industry may
also have contributed to sudden Czech willingness,
after years of balking, to remove a stateowned
pig farm from the site of a Nazi concentration
camp near the south Bohemian village
of Lety, where Romine gypsies were
interned and more than 300 died.
By late 1998 even U.S. hog prices
were at 1964 levels––the lowest on record,
after adjustment for inflation.
Low pork prices in turn cut global
demand for beef and chicken. Tyson Foods
Inc. reported a mid-1998 drop of 41% in revenue
from chicken parts usually sold to Russia
and Asia––and went more than two months
without even getting a Russian order.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
economist Chuck Lambert objected that
cattle producers lost $3.65 billion in equity
during 1998, but did not get a federal bail-out;
hog producers, losing $2.5 billion, got $50
million in special aid, and will get $250 million
more if a March 19 U.S. Senate allocation
gets House and White House approval.
The USDA also bought $65 million
worth of pork for food programs in late 1998,
and at Christmas 1998 announced an $80 million
drive to buy and render 1.7 million infected
pigs to fight the pig disease pseudorabies.
As a price support device, however,
the pseudorabies program failed: prices for
rendered goods fell due to oversupply.
Animal massacres for alleged public
benefit date back at least to the purge of cats
ordered by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 to curb a
purported outbreak of witchcraft. A century of
cat-killing left Europe open to the rat-borne
fleas who brought the Black Death in 1334––
but cat massacres continued until after the
Black Death nearly wiped out London in 1665.
Despite vastly expanded knowledge
of disease control and prevention, such killing
has not receded into history.
Responding to the first outbreak of
hoof-and-mouth disease to hit Taiwan since
1914, Taiwanese farmers and soldiers in
killed 3.8 million pigs in early 1997––many of
them reportedly burned or buried alive after
inept electric stunning. The Dalai Lama, visiting
Taiwan, prayed for the pigs’ souls.
Hoof-and-mouth disease actually
afflicted just over one million pigs, on 6,103
of the 25,357 Taiwanese pig farms.
But the real impetus to the massacre
was not the illness itself: it was that Japan,
Singapore, and South Korea barred Taiwanese
pork. Japan alone had bought 60% of Taiwanese
pork output. About half of the 100,000
Taiwanese pig farm laborers lost their jobs.
Some Taiwanese politicans and
media intimated that hoof-and-mouth disease
––apparently brought from China by pork
smugglers––might have been deliberately
introduced to destabilize the nation.
China meanwhile fought an outbreak
of avian influenza that reportedly killed 1.5
million poultry on farms in Guandong
province, near Hong Kong.
When China reclaimed Hong Kong
from Britain in June 1997, it inherited growing
panic over an avian flu variant, possibly
from Guandong, that jumped from ducks to
humans, killing six of the 18 people afflicted.
Denying any Guandong link, China
in January 1998 showed off authoritarian clout
and bolstered Guandong poultry sales to Hong
Kong by ordering all Hong Kong civil servants
to help kill every resident domesticated bird
they could find, livestock or pet.
“Killing the chicken to scare the
monkey,” as a Chinese proverb has it, the
Communist Chinese regime has since 1949
used frequent dog massacres both to control
rabies, the official pretext, and to warn the
public against civil unrest.
Officials of the deposed Suhuarto
regime in Indonesia used similar tactics in
May 1998, just before Suharto fell, ordering
the killing of more than 500,000 dogs, cats,
and macacques to curb rabies in East Flores––
near rebellious Timor, which post-Suharto
was given the option of independence.
Back at the ranch
Neither is panic-killing en masse
unique to Asia.
The ongoing shootings of bison who
might carry the cattle disease brucellosis into
Montana from Yellowstone National Park is a
high-profile U.S. example in microcosm of
similar use of disease as a pretext for political
muscle-flexing and economic protectionism.
Relatively few animals are involved. Just 19
bison were shot during the winter of 1998-
1999, down from a high of 1,100 in 1996-
1997. But the killing goes on because other
states may ban Montana beef if Montana loses
USDA-certified brucellosis-free status.
Britain since 1986 has killed 4.4 million
cattle to fight bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Of under 200,000 known BSE cases,
worldwide, more than 90% have been found
in Britain. The European Union may require
Britain to kill four million more cattle by 2002,
as a precondition for resuming beef exports.
The human form of BSE, called new
variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, has so far
been found in 45 people: 44 who ate British
beef, one who apparently ate just French beef.
By contrast, the National Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention estimates,
routine bacterial meat contamination kills
9,000 Americans per year.
But risks tied to slaughterhouse and
butcher shop sanitation, or with longterm consumption,
such as cholesterol build-up, don’t
allow nations to protect their meat industries
by halting imports. Viral diseases do.
Franklin D. Roosevelt learned the
need for such a bogeyman back in 1933, when
he formed the Agricultural Adjustment
Administration to stabilize farm commodity
prices. The AAA bought and killed millions
of piglets, calves, chicks, and lambs––bringing
Roosevelt the worst press of his career.
Roosevelt then set up the USDA
school lunch subsidy program as a much more
popular price support mechanism.
Despite the economic pain to pig
farmers, there is no good news for pigs: factory
farms are still starting wherever labor is
cheap and environmental laws tenuous,
including a $50 million Smithfield Foods project
in Poland, announced on January 18.
The small-timers whose pigs wallow
outdoors––and create puddles where mosquitoes
breed––are being driven from the business,
but the big-timers with the big money
are betting pork consumption will only grow.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
northeast division refuge chief Richard Dyer
reportedly intends to approve a New York
Department of Environmental Conservation
plan to kill 300 double-crested cormorants at
Little Galloo Island in eastern Lake Ontario
during May and June 1999. The plan is
opposed by both the National Audubon
S o c i e t y and the Fund for Animals. Local
fishers blame the cormorants for depleting
smallmouth bass. The NY/DEC announced
the plan to kill cormorants on March 13;
USFWS prosecutors said six days later that
they expect to accept plea bargains from as