Since the late 1980s, Vietnamese pot belly pigs have been fad pets in countries such as America, while their larger cousins back in Vietnam live a very different life. Many pigs are illegally smuggled from China into Vietnam, arriving diseased and ill. They live on concrete floors, fed swill and are sacrificed in blood lust festivals, to satisfy people’s greed for luck and wealth.
The Vietnamese Pot Belly Pig has become a loved pet in many American homes, as well as a dumped pet from many American homes, due to their large size and ongoing need of social boundaries and mental stimulation to keep them on the straight and narrow “nice-pig” path. Pet pig owners agree that pot belly pigs can make the BEST pet or the WORST pet - depending on how their treated.
Vietnamese people see pigs completely different. Their not interested in dressing their pot belly pigs in little outfits or teaching them to ride a skateboard or play golf, like their American counterparts.
No matter which country they are in, pot belly pigs “have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds,” says Dr. Donald Broom, a Cambridge University professor and a former scientific adviser to the Council of Europe. Pigs can play video games and when given the choice, they have indicated temperature preferences in their surroundings.
Pigs are social, playful animals who can live into their teens, are protective of their young and form strong bonds with other pigs. They are clean animals, but they do not sweat as humans do, so they prefer cool surfaces such as mud, to help regulate their body temperature. (Peta)
Author’s Introduction to Pigs In Vietnam
I was travelling along a major highway in North Vietnam when I came upon a man on a motorbike with seven live pigs strapped to his bike. it was sickening, shocking and horrific all rolled into one. The pigs were suspended by wires and their legs hung down, almost hitting the road as he drove along.
Its one thing to see photos of the treatment of animals in Vietnam, but seeing it in real life is even worse. The feeling of utter helplessness sweeps over me each time I’m confronted with impossible situations where what I ‘want’ to do is not even close to what I can or cannot do.
Pig Festival For Human Greed
While American-born Vietnamese pot belly pigs are being over fed, over clothed and learning new tricks, pigs in Vietnam are doing it tough. Pigs are seen as money makers and even their blood is considered a sure fire way to guaranteed wealth.
Each year an annual blood lust festival of live-pig chopping, buffalo sacrificing and fighting is held in Nem Thuong Village, Bac Ninh Province. The excuse used is that its traditional for animals to be used as a sacrifice to the god of fortune and prosperity. People dip their paper money into the pigs blood.
An alive pig is carried into a loud arena of cheering people where it’s four legs are tied fully outstretched. As the crowd whips more and more into an hysterical frenzy of blood lust, a man with a large sword steps forward and takes aim directly across the pig’s chest.
As the sword is slowly swung up into the air, far above the perpetrators head, the crowd are screaming with excitement. Above the hysterics of the crowd, the pig can be heard screaming in terror, instinctlively knowing something dreadful is about to happen to him. No-one cares less about the pig or pays any attention to it’s blood curdling screams of terror.
Vietnamese Professor Justifies The Festival
Vietnamese Professor Tran Lam Bien justifies the blood lust festival in an interview with The Thao & Van Hoa newspaper: “In the beliefs of many nations in the world, animal’s blood with its typical red colour is always a manifestation for vitality.
Vietnamese citizens chop pig to get its blood to present to the local god, implicitly seeking the god’s support for plentiful and fertile land as the blood bow offered. Once the animal is slaughtered, its blood is splashed all around into the local land, which also represents such meaning.
It is unfair and wrongly to judge the ritual if we just stand outside and consider them simply as festivals to kill animals for fun. I myself want to ask a question: how many people among those against the rituals have ever spent time and efforts seeking for the rituals’ origin and meanings, or just take a leaf out of homebody’s book and look things through vulgar eyes?
It is obvious that buffalo and pig sacrificing have existed until now because of its spiritual and religious importance to local community. And when masters of these rituals still find the necessity of the rituals in their modern life, let put yourself in their position to think but not quickly allow yourself the rights to judge the practice as “brutal” arbitrarily.
It is hard to say “don’t” because these rituals have been repeated over years and taken roots in the subconscious of local community. It is because, the imbalance in spiritual life will easily make them seek for other value systems.
It’s better to say you should not talk about “conserve” or “remove” [the rituals] at this moment. Besides the local communities, there are a few people that understand the cultural essence of buffalo and pig sacrificing rituals.
In the short term, it is necessary to explain and supply sufficient information about the rituals for the festival-goers, so they can view the practice from perspectives of the ever local residents. They should not, for the sake of anything else, impose or coerce into accepting meanings and feelings from outside.
If one day, young generations in Central Highlands, Nem Thuong Village and Do Son [Hai Phong City] feel that animal sacrificing and buffalo fighting are no longer suitable, they themselves will stop and seek for another type of expression.
As far as we’re concerned, we should respect local cultures and never let ourselves to deal with their affairs.”
Author: in other words, anyone not in agreeing with the cruelty is being told to be quiet and go away.
Pig Blood Pudding
Vietnam’s Luna New year celebrations in February always involve slaughtering pigs and some people raw pig meat. People end up in hospital with swine bacteria and some die.
A source from the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi said people become infected with the Streptococcus suis bacteria, a pork-based pathogen and that patients had direct contact with pork through butchering, selling pork, or eating “tiet canh,” a type of pudding made with raw pig’s blood. Some developed meningitis, the source said.
Dr. Nguyen Trung Cap from the hospital’s Emergency Department said the dead patients were brought to the hospital after having the blood dish, and their condition became critical quickly with declining liver, kidney and lung functions.
“Half the patients said they ate ‘tiet canh,'” Cap said (blood pudding made of raw pig blood - sometimes dog blood too.)
There is a belief among many Vietnamese people that eating the red-colored blood dish would bring them luck in the New Lunar Year.
Doctors said the disease is dangerous as it can cause septicaemia or blood poisoning, meningitis, pneumonia and endocarditis inflammation of the heart membrane.
They said sometimes blood poisoning does not kill, but still causes necrosis, requiring the amputation of legs or hands.
Nguyen Hong Ha, deputy director of the Hanoi hospital, said there are other complications after one is cured, such as hearing impairment, loss of memory and epilepsy.
Ha said the condition is often mistaken for dengue fever as it starts with high fever, a headache, cold feeling and rashes. “False diagnosis can delay treatment or lead to wrong treatment,” he said, adding that treatment for the disease is costly at around hundreds of dollars for each case.
Globally, records show that fatalities from the bacteria are uncommon, though several have died from it in Vietnam. The Hanoi hospital cited unofficial surveys as showing that around 10 to 30 percent of the Vietnamese population are infected with the bacteria every year. The death rate was nearly 13 percent.
Ha said the hospital received more than 120 infections of the bacteria last year, with 70 percent of the patients eating the blood dish and many among the rest eating pork that was not well cooked.
Lam Quoc Hung, in charge of poison control at the Health Ministry’s Food Safety Department, advised people to stop eating any kind of uncooked animal dish.
Dr. Tran Van Ky from Vietnam Association of Science, Technology and Food Safety, also said the uncooked blood dish should not be a tradition anymore.
“The blood carries many diseases from the animals”¦ People eating raw blood from sick pigs can get swine bacteria, worms, and other digestive diseases, while those having blood from sick chicken can be infected with H5N1 or H1N1 viruses,” Ky said.
He said a large number of pigs and chicken as well as other livestock found in the market do not go through any quality control, given the widespread smuggling and loose management of slaughterhouses.
But caution should be maximized as even healthy pigs carry the bacteria, and they are also found in horses, cats, dogs and birds, doctors said.
They said butchers, farmers and vendors need to wear face masks, clean their hands thoroughly before, during and after work, and provide extra protection for scratches and exposed cuts (TN News.)
Pumping Water Into Pigs To Boost Their Sale Weight
Their are many similarities between Vietnam’s dog meat trade and it’s pig trade. Starting with the illegal smuggling of diseased pigs from China into Vietnam, for human consumption - just like the dog trade for human consumption where diseased dogs are smuggled into Vietnam at alarming numbers - so too are the pigs being force-fed water to boost their body weight prior to sale. In some areas, Vietnam also does this to the dogs in it’s cruel dog trade.
Pig store owner Nguyen Viet Long was caught red-handed pumping water into pigs to increase their weight before transporting them to slaughterhouses.
Tien Giang’s Police Office on Environmental Crimes imposed a VND5.5 million (US$250) fine on Long for violating the veterinary services and animal feed policy. He had already pumped water into 30 of the 59 pigs at the scene. All of them had been certified by Ben Tre’s Veterinary Department.
Long, who had been operating the business for a month, pumped water into about 30 pigs per day before transporting them to the Tan My Chanh Co-operative slaughterhouse in My Tho City. — VNS
Smuggling Diseased Live Pigs From China Into Vietnam
According to CGIAR, most of Vietnam’s pork comes from backyard pig producers but pig nutrition on small farms is generally poor and the animals suffer serious deficiencies in protein, especially lysine and methyanine.”
The smuggling of pork and live pigs from China is a strong illegal activity across the border, and the issue of “blue ear disease” is not new. Several years ago Radio Australia announced the following: “Vietnam has ordered a crackdown on the smuggling of pork and live pigs from China to prevent the spread of a mystery disease that has killed 37 people.
The mysterious pig-borne epidemic, reportedly caused by the streptococcus suis bacteria, has so far affected 188 villages in Sichuan province in southwestern China. The number of people infected by the disease has increased to 205.”
A few years later Vietnam called for rapid action against pig diseases: Vietnam must speed investigations into a pig disease that has struck 42 people killing two, the agriculture minister said, calling for urgent measures to contain the bacteria. Initial assessments showed the disease caused by Streptococcus suis bacteria had spread in the country.
The bacteria emerged only recently in the country of 85 million people, infecting 22 people in the northern provinces followed by 20 in the southern region.
People catch the bacteria after coming into direct contact either by hand or eating pork from a sick pig, Nguyen Hong Ha deputy head of the National Institute for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, said in a Voice of Vietnam radio broadcast.
The bacteria causes rapid internal haemorrhage and high fever and can develop meningitis, septicaemia and endocarditis in the next stage leading to death or deafness if the victim survives.
Eating pig blood pudding—a popular dish to go with rice wine in rural Vietnam areas—is extremely dangerous due to high density of the bacteria in blood, Ha said.
On Monday, Minister Phat said the PRRS, also known as ‘blue ear disease’, had been spreading fast in the central provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and Danang city partly because officials were unable to stop trading and transport of pigs. (Source)
On the next day, AP dispatched this news: “In China, nearly 90,000 pigs have died or been slaughtered because of blue ear disease, a Ministry of Agriculture official said Wednesday, part of the cause of a spike in pork prices.
The epidemic has now spread to 25 provinces or regions, said Li Jinxiang, a veterinarian with the ministry. China has 23 provinces, five autonomous regions and four self-governed municipalities.
Li told a news conference that by the start of this week, 165,144 pigs had contracted the disease. So 45,546 had died and another 42,728 had been slaughtered.” (Source)
In the meantime, Reuters added:
”Two people have died in northern Vietnam from a pig disease while another virus has been killing thousands of pigs in recent weeks in the central region, government and media reports said on Monday.
Twenty two people, most from northern areas, have been taken to a Hanoi hospital so far this year after they fell sick from the Streptococcus suis bacteria. Two of the infected had died.
People infected by the bacteria suffer from rapid internal haemorrhage and high fever after they eat pork from a sick pig or inhale the air near the sick swine. Another pig disease, the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus, also known as Lelystad virus, had struck more than 16,000 pigs in the central province of Quang Nam since June.
The syndrome was first recognized in the United States in the mid 1980s and was called “mystery swine disease”. In some other countries including Vietnam it is referred to as ‘blue ear disease’. Since late June the virus has spread to neighboring Quang Ngai province and Danang city, infecting more than 27,000 pigs, nearly 1,500 of them had died, the Animal Health Department said.
On Sunday state-run Vietnam Television said pig raisers in Quang Nam province had thrown hundreds of dead pigs into a local river, causing serious water pollution near the UNESCO-recognized tourist town of Hoi An.”
Vietnamese Pigs Fed Swill - Illegal In Some Countries
It is seen as a weakness for a Vietnamese pig farmer to buy pig-feed from a manufacturer such as Cargill. Pig farmers are told to “become strong, independent, and no longer subject to the fluctuations and uncertainty of the global marketplace.
According to Dr. Paul Oliver: the pig farmer should buy nothing from feed companies, and in growing the plants needed to feed his pigs, he should buy nothing from fertilizer companies. The Vietnamese pig farmer can be easily taught to produce all of the feed he needs to raise his pigs.”
Instead of pig feed specifically for the health of pigs, Vietnamese pig farmers use what is commonly known as “swill.”
What is swill?
Swill is the traditional name for food scraps or food waste that contains or has come into contact with meat or meat products or any other products from mammals, including food scraps, bakery waste, restaurant waste and untreated used cooking oils. This applies to all pigs, including pet pigs. read more: Swill Fact sheet
Why Not Feed Swill?
Meat and mammalian material can contain viruses. Diseases like Foot-and-Mouth Disease, Classical and African Swine Fever, Aujeszky’s disease, swine vesicular disease and Transmissible Gastroenteritis can be carried and transmitted by feeding swill to pigs. Feeding swill to pigs is believed to have caused the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth disease in the UK in 2001.
Vietnamese Swill For Pigs
Pig farmers in Vietnam collect food waste from restaurants, known as “swill” and feed this waste to their pigs. This collection takes place within all major cities within Vietnam [the same is also done in South Korea.]
Pig farmers also ferment fruit waste, vegetable waste, fish byproducts, fish mortalities, slaughterhouse waste, shrimp shell waste and so on, as well as growing taro and other plants rich in protein to ferment and feed them to his pigs.
Since 98% of the Vietnamese people eat pork, the pig farmer becomes a key player in assuring the security of the supply of food within Vietnam. Note that “slaughterhouse waste” is included in the pigs diet!
Pig Manure On Pig Farms
Faeces and urine are allowed to flow together, and often this slurry is discharged into nearby lagoons, streams and rivers. Lagoon water is often used to wash and cool down the pigs. Disease is rampant. Antibiotics proliferate. The stench is unbearable. Both pigs and farmers are often infected with deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria called MRSA.
In spite of the enormous pollution that the pig farmer so often generates, he makes little money. One of the most exciting ways to dispose of pig waste is to raise the pig on soft bedding comprised of sawdust, shredded straw, coconut dust or some other dry biomass. The faeces deposited onto the bedding by the pig is collected twice a day and placed in nearby mesophilic bins or biopods. Both devices are ideal for growing BSF larvae.
If a mesophilic bin is used to grow larvae, the farmer does not have many feeding option. Here the larvae are destined primarily for chickens who know how to harvest larvae. At night mature prepupae crawl through the aeration holes of the bin and fall onto the ground. They then seek refuge under leaves and other debris around the base of the bin. The following morning, chickens have no problem finding and eating them.
If a biopod is used to grow larvae, the larvae self-harvest into a collection bucket. The farmer is free to feed the larvae to whatever he wishes: chickens, fish, frogs, shrimp and so forth (Erlsa.)
Some pig farmers have discovered a market for selling larvae, red worms and vermicompost as an additional source of income. Pig waste can cause serious environmental pollution.
A study of 30 piggeries was conducted across Vietnam by the Wageningen University Project, 2011, with the following results: the average piggery had 280 pigs, , slaughter weight 101kg, slaughtered at 6.2 months old, 100% kept sows to raise growing pigs.
A growing pig (20 kg) consumed 2.4kg/day, piglests 0.36 kg/day and sows 2.9kg/day.
All piggeries are fenced with concrete floors, roof and no bedding. The ‘growing pig’ area occupies 89% of space.
Each farm uses 6,975 litres of water/day, or 35 litres/growing pig and sow/day. Each farm collects 609kg solid manure/day. 17% solid manure use directly for crop, 83% sold.
70 % farm storage slurry; in which 67 % using anaerobic fermentation slurry; product after that used for crops or discharge to environment, 33 % farms storage slurry in ponds.
STUDY CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Lack of treatment capacity, lack of transport capacity, absence of information regarding manure management improvements, absence of interest in manure management, and lack of access to loans for building manure management system are the important factors discouraging the using manure as fertilizer
- Socio-economic constraints do not really hinder the decision to use manure as fertilizer on the farms
- Major reasons to improve manure management because of direct impact on human and animal heath, water quality and odor emissions to residential areas.
Vietnamese Pot Belly Pig’ Facts and Figures
In the late 1980s the Vietnamese Pot Belly pig rocketed to stardom and it was the most “in” pet you could buy in the United States. Vietnamese potbelly pigs stand 16 to 26 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 125 and 200 pounds. While still quite large, these are much smaller than farm pigs, which can weigh 800 pounds or more.
All pigs, including farm pigs, are very small at birth (generally between 2 and 4 pounds). That’s why it’s ESSENTIAL, if you’re getting a pet pig, to find out how big its full-grown parents are (and perhaps even its grandparents), as some pigs grow very slowly, even well into adulthood.
To read more on Vietnamese Pot Belly pigs as pets, the positives and the negatives: A Pig As A Pet? You Bet, from the Veterinary Centre for Birds and Exotic Animals.
We will continue to monitor the plight of Vietnam’s pigs and watch for movement between China and Vietnam in the illegal pig smuggling situation and bring you updates when applicable.
If you are considering adopting a Vietnamese pot belly pig - do a LOT of research BEFORE you purchase one! Too many pot belly pigs are being surrendered and even abandoned because owners can’t keep up with the demands involved in owning one. Do your research and speak with knowledgable pot belly pig organisations and owners before making any decisions. The pigs are beautiful animals who deserve a long term home.
Thank you for reading,