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Chinese Premier urged to lift ban on reporting pigs' deaths

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned China's Central Propaganda Department has imposed censorship on media outlets after they began reporting the death of thousands of pigs in China's Shanghai and Zhejiang province.

Several Chinese media outlets have been reporting that, since March 5, dramatic numbers of pig carcasses are being discovered in waterways around Shanghai. The English-language service of The Global Times, the People's Daily sister publication, reported on March 17 that the Shanghai Water Authority had not found any viruses in water samples taken from the districts of Songjiang, Jinshan, Minhang and Fengxian.

The report also said the Shanghai Animal Disease Control Centre found that 13 of the 20 tissue samples taken from pig carcasses tested positive for porcine circovirus, adding that the virus does not affect humans. Furthermore, the Animal Disease Control Centre in Zhejiang Province had found that 16 of the 36 tissue samples it tested contained porcine circovirus and seven tested positive for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, another common disease in pigs. Yu Kangzhen, State chief veterinary officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, was quoted as saying more pigs have been dying due to poor or overcrowded environments and the cold rainy weather over the winter.

According to the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency, there were no large-scale infectious diseases among the pig carcasses, nor have they found any sign of zoonosis, which can be transmitted from animals to humans.

While media outlets were investigating the problem, they received an order from the Central Propaganda Department on March 14 that prohibited independent reporting or commentary on the issue. Instead, the media outlets were directed to republish Xinhua's report.

The IFJ's Asia-Pacific office says: "The new Premier Li Keqiang has said food safety is of the utmost importance. On March 17, on the closing of the annual legislative session, he stated that it is directly related to people's health and quality of life. He further added that the media has an important role to play in overseeing the operations of the new Cabinet."

The IFJ urges Premier Li to investigate the issue and urges the Central Propaganda Department to raise its ban on reporting and allow the media to continue to independently report the problem. "Clearly people need access to reliable information about the cause of massive numbers of pig deaths, how they should protect themselves, and how the authority intends to handle the situation."

The IFJ urges the All Chinese Journalists Association of China to fight for the right to exercise their professional duties.

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