KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has called off a cull of 50,000 pigs amid concerns it could stoke racial tensions between Chinese pig farmers and their Muslim neighbours.
Authorities in southern Malacca state abandoned the cull on Tuesday night after dozens of farmers formed a human barricade around their farms. Riot police were called in to keep them at bay.
Officials had said they ordered the cull following complaints from residents about the smell and water pollution from the pig farms.
The government denied on Wednesday the cull had been called off because of fears of racial tensions and said farmers had now agreed to reduce their herds. But an opposition party said the racial dimension had forced authorities to back down.
“People, their children and women came out, willing to defend their property, the government felt the backlash would be too great,” said Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of Malaysia’s main opposition Democratic Action Party.
He said the ruling coalition, dominated by Muslim ethnic Malays, had planned the cull for religious and political reasons.
“It was done for political reasons to show that they are good Muslims and are fighting for Malay rights,” Lim said.
Ethnic Chinese in multi-racial Malaysia relish pork, but the meat is banned in Islam as unfit for Muslim consumption.
Malacca’s chief minister has said the state did not want to emerge as Malaysia’s biggest pig producer and the national government wants Malaysia to become a global hub for halal food.
Farmers said their pigs were healthy and did not cause any pollution.
A veterinary department official said the situation needed cooling down but denied it was a racial issue.
“They are trying to cool down the situation and negotiating with people how to implement this agreement to reduce pigs,” the official said.
Under the pact, farmers agreed to cut the swine population from around 160,000 to 48,000 by September 21, an official of the Federation of Livestock Farmers’ Associations of Malaysia said.
“They will either sell the pigs or relocate them to farms in other states,” said the official, who declined to be named. “It is not fair, it will lead to panic selling.”
In April, independent news Web site Malaysiakini.com reported that the Islamic International College in the region feared pollution from pig farms could affect its student intake.