Swine Surveillance and Digital Pork: The Emergence of Platform Capitalism in China’s Industrial Meat Regime – Mindi Schneider


Industrial livestock production is based on the abstraction of animals from ecological cycles and species-being. The confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, is the most ‘advanced’ form of industrial meat production, in which thousands to millions of pigs, chickens, or cattle are packed tightly together in enclosed buildings, cages, or feed lots. Rather than living in motion and in proximity to other living things, industrial livestock consume, metabolize, and excrete in place and in relative isolation. They are spatially separated from their food sources, sometimes by thousands of miles as the grain trade that feed them encircles the globe. At the same time, they are abstracted from their animality and reconfigured into industrial herds of genetically uniform meat-producing ‘units.’ Such abstraction, rationalization, and scaling in industrial livestock production are nothing new. In recent years, however, technologies that serve to further abstract livestock from biology and animality have emerged and are increasingly at the vanguard of industry development. From pig facial recognition technologies to smart CAFO buildings that monitor and adjust environmental conditions to point of origin labelling that tracks the journey from piglet to pork, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway in animal agriculture. In this context, data becomes an important raw material and source of value in industrial livestock production, in addition to the genes, piglets, boars, sows, meat, and other byproducts that are the CAFO’s more typically circulated commodities. Taking China’s pork sector as a case, this chapter examines the emergence of what Nick Srnicek’s (2016) calls ‘platform capitalism’: a new business form in which companies become platforms for extracting and commodifying data. The chapter asks: How is platform capitalism taking hold in industrial livestock production in China? How are digital infrastructures supported and by whom? How are modes of surveillance and digital infrastructures re-making constructions and materialities of labor and production in the pork industry, of food and environment, and of the pig itself?


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