I refer to your news article ‘Ridhuan: How can pigs outnumber cows in M'sia?
Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah has complained that Malaysia has to import livestock such as cow, goats, sheep, etc but has such a surplus of pigs that the last is exported. He voiced his unhappiness at what he sees as an imbalance in our national husbandry.
Of course he ignores issues such as the remarkable National Feedlot Centre project, or local conditions for rearing certain types of livestock, market forces, and farming preference. He would not be unlike a durian-loving New Zealander asking why her country with a population of 4.5 million and over 70 million sheep does not have one single durian tree.
The truth is Dr Ridhuan Abdullah is at it again, politicking and pushing his standard fare of bangsa dan agama (Malay race and religion). Sometimes I wonder whether he does it on his own accord, perhaps to gain attention and relevance, or has been pushed forward by known forces to ‘attract and distract’.
And right on time in regards to my pondering above, he has challenged the new Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali on whether the latter would be willing to approve the RM100 million integrated pig farming project in the state.
We all know Dr Ridhuan Abdullah, his political proclivities and yes, his favourite term for those he dislikes or considers as political-social foes, namely, ‘ultra kiasu’. We also know he constantly reminds everyone he is a Malay, no doubt a Malaysian constitutional one but nonetheless a Malay. He informs readers of his column on this via his ‘kita Melayu’.
But there’s no denying he is an ethnic Chinese, one even with a Chinese surname Tee. I only raise this in order to remind Dr Ridhuan Abdullah that he ought to know what the Chinese (Hokkien) word ‘kiasu’ means. If he doesn’t then he ought not to brandish the word so liberally as he has been doing. Instead, he should take note that he ironically is the ultimate ‘ultra kiasu’ in his political-social polemics.
But Dr Ridhuan Abdullah is not the first Muslim in this country to raise the issue of pig farming in Malaysia. Back in 2004, a blogger by the nickname of Aisehman posted an intriguing article which raised some health questions related to the rearing of pigs in Malaysia.
He quoted international health officials (then in 2004) on an imminent pandemic - a possible hybrid strain of avian influenza and human flu virus, with Asia as its likely epicentre. According to him the pandemic may be even worse than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). He mentioned the World Health Organisation (WHO) raising the possibility that bird flu could mix with a virus carried by pigs, giving rise to another mutated and deadlier progeny.
He posed the query as to whether we Malaysians ought to think about a pre-emptive and massive culling exercise of every single pig in our country (then I asked, would this include wild pigs in our jungles?), and a total cessation of pig-farming activities, of course to prevent the feared pandemic.
He stated he was mindful of the adverse economic cost and cultural impact, but nonetheless he queried whether this might come about, and whether it would be worth the inevitable sacrifices?
I then replied that if we select pigs to purge completely from Malaysia, on the basis of a viral danger to health, then what should we do about the problem of Avian Flu? I reminded him that Avian Flu was then the imminent danger rather than pigs. I asked further whether we should also cull all types of fowls (and eggs), and ban Malaysians from indulging in their hobbies of keeping merbok, merpati and various other birds as pets?
Never seeing a satisfactory conclusion
The problem with the culling-elimination approach would be that we would never ever see a satisfactory conclusion, even if we ended up shooting every bird that dares to fly over peninsula Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah.
And I posed the question of mad cow disease (BSE) and the foot-and-mouth disease which affected hoofed animals like cows, sheep, goats, perhaps even camels.
Now why did the blogger not see the answer to our health concerns was not in removing any particular species completely, but rather those conditions that promoted the development and spread of a pandemic virus.
We could and can do this by developing and practicing good personal hygiene, quarantine control, management of healthy and clean animal farming, and public education. Australia, New Zealand and Denmark have these procedures and practices in place. The USA, Canada and UK dealt extremely well with their respective BSE problem, which for the last had been in the magnitude of a national disaster.
Their people and the Japanese and Europeans continue to enjoy pork, beef, lamb, fowls, etc without undue fears.
Alas, for him then and perhaps Dr Ridhuan Abdullah today, the pig, unfortunately for us Malaysians, is an animal that represents a very real divisive politico-religious-social factor, because to Muslims it’s religiously an unclean animal and thus haram [forbidden, not kosher], while to non-Muslims especially Chinese Malaysians, it’s the source of a delicious and popular meat.
But to non-Muslim Chinese Malaysians, the pig continues to be a significant part of so many aspects of their culture. For those who can afford them, roast pigs are used in cultural, religious and social ceremonies such as offerings to deities, pre-wedding exchange of gifts with new in-laws, funeral offerings, Cheng Beng festivals, pièce de résistance at birthday dinners, etc.
Then there is the uniquely world famous and by now (thanks to the Alvivi couple) politically-socially notorious Malaysian bah-kut-teh, a popular pork herb-soup dish that started its fame in Klang before sweeping through the country. Even foreigners in their own country ask for it when they shop at Asian grocery shops.
Not quite the same without pork
Indeed, many other Chinese dishes wouldn’t be quite the same without pork.
All the above Chinese delicacies are of course forbidden to Muslims, who viewed the meat as unclean stuff, and for some of them, also utterly repugnant. The pigs reared here in Malaysia for their meat have never been meant for Muslims but for local non Muslims and for export overseas. I was informed that prior to the Nipah virus problem, Malaysia was exporting RM2 billion worth of pork - yes, RM2 billion, not million.
Incidentally, one of the oft-heard complaints from non-Muslim has been the unequal treatment by Muslim-dominated city councils and municipalities. At some public centres where food are served, the authorities would prohibit food stalls from serving food containing pork, such as wan tan noodles which normally are accompanied by char siew (barbequed pork).
The complaint has not been so much the prohibition in sales of pork-related food per se, but more because, as non-Muslims would point out with much chagrin, beef-related food has not been similarly prohibited despite the meat being haram (forbidden) to Hindus and some sects of Buddhists (eg. of Pure Land Buddhism).
Once my friend, a very staunch Hindu, and I had beef served to us while we were attending a course run by a government department. I wasn't even asked whether I could take beef but it’s fortuitous that I didn’t and still don’t subscribe to my family’s religious belief which considers beef as haram.
My Hindu friend went ballistic not so much because the centre had served beef to him but because when he told the catering supervisor he was a Hindu and couldn’t eat beef, the manager responded insensitively, “I don’t see what's wrong with eating beef?”
Imagine what if the table has been turned around...? Would my friend be charged with sedition?
Of course most fair-minded non-Muslim Malaysians understand that it’d be only natural for Muslims to want pigs and its farming rid of from Malaysia. There are substantiated complaints of pigs’ excrement polluting rivers and other water sources. We recall what the Malacca government did to the pig farmers in that state some years back.
There is no doubt that pig farming had contributed to pollution though it's not the only cause - in fact there are worse, like certain industries. Unfortunately because of the religious-emotional implications the solution seems to be to ban pig rearing rather than enforced strict health and hygiene controls over pig farming activities.
The pig is reared successfully in many western countries, outstanding examples being Denmark and Australia, where piggeries are very well kept and maintained to the highest health and hygiene standards. Denmark has been doing so with the highest standard of hygiene for eons, making pig related products a multi-billion dollar export item.
Just to remind everyone, the pig and its pork were once Malaysia’s multi-billion ringgit export item, too. I wonder whether it still is today?
I think we should give credit where it’s due, that it’s wonderful Dr Ridhuan Abdullah said, “I do not insult pigs because pigs are Allah's creatures.” But alas, when racial and religious emotions step in, logic and consistency of arguments have to exit.
It’s a pity that a pair of pigs, and indeed birds, chickens, cows, rats, were allowed on board the ark of Noah (pbuh).
K TEMOC is a Penangite who enjoys being an independent blogger and loves to share his opinion on Malaysian and world affairs without fear or favour, though currently is politically inclined towards DAP, only because the political party has thus far shown faithfulness to its promise of competency, accountability and transparency.