African Swine Fever spreads to 22 provinces in China as year of the pig approaches
Authorities in China are scrambling to stem the rapid spread of the African Swine Fever (ASF), with more than 600,000 pigs culled in 22 provinces since August.
- Authorities banned the feeding of kitchen scraps and quarantined impacted farms
- Officials said the outbreak was under control in September when five provinces were affected
- There are concerns that pork prices may jump dramatically in 2019 due to the virus
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said there had been 87 confirmed outbreaks identified in China, the world’s biggest pork producer.
The virus was first detected in the north-eastern Liaoning province and has now reached farms outside major cities like Shanghai and Beijing.
The culling of more than 600,000 pigs in the lead-up to Lunar New Year celebrations, and particularly as the Chinese Zodiac enters the year of the pig, has also raised concerns about whether pork will be in short supply.
There are an estimated 680 million pigs in China, which accounts for more than half of the world’s pork production.
This year alone there have been over 360,000 global cases of ASF across 19 countries, including large breakouts in Russia, Romania and the Ivory Coast.
While the virus is not dangerous to humans, there is no cure and certain strains of the virus have a 100 per cent mortality rate in pigs, according to the US Centre for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH).
ASF can be transmitted through direct contact, poor sanitisation, insects, and even through processed meats, according to CFSPH.
It is believed the disease first travelled from Africa to Georgia in processed pork products contaminated with the disease.
Veterinary officer Dr Peter Saville, from the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry, told the ABC’s NT Country Hour last month that while live pigs are not allowed into Australia, there are concerns the current strain of ASF could spread to Australia through processed pork products like pork jerky.
“Visitors to China and residents returning from China often bring food items with them, and often these items contain pork,” Dr Saville said, adding that Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have detected the virus in incoming products from China.
“It can spread and survive in processed food for many months … it can survive disinfection, high temperatures, low temperatures and ultraviolet light, so it is not as sensitive as most viruses.”
Epidemic ‘generally under control’
As well as culling animals, the Ministry has banned the feeding of pigs with kitchen scraps, stopped the transport of live pigs from affected areas, and quarantined impacted farms, but the virus has still managed to spread.
Despite the sizeable outbreak, the chief of the animal husbandry and veterinarian bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Feng Zhongwu, said the situation was still under control.
“The current African Swine Fever outbreak in the country is being found in scattered spots, it is not pandemic,” Mr Feng said.
“The epidemic is generally under control.”
Farmers across the impacted provinces have had to cull pigs and follow tight restrictions. (Reuters: Stringer)
The ministry had deemed the situation “generally under control” in September, when cases in only five provinces had been identified.
Mr Feng added that “every outbreak has been quickly culled, disinfected and made harmless” while the proper investigations and analyses have been carried out.
He said the majority of outbreaks have been caused by a failure to properly disinfect the vehicles used to transport porcine between farms, or through the feeding of pigs with kitchen scraps.
Pork prices to jump as year of the pig approaches
The continuing spread of swine fever in China comes just months before the start of the year of the pig on February 5.
Pork dumplings, sausages, and meatballs are popular dishes and demand is set to be high during festivities.
Yet despite pork being the main protein in much of Chinese cuisine, Mr Feng said he was confident that the industry would not see a drop in supply for the celebrations.
“Our national production of pig is 680 million, therefore, there will be no impact on the supply for the two festivals [New Years Day and the Chinese Lunar New Year],” he said.
Officials say the pork supply during the Year of the Pig festival will not be impacted. (Supplied: The Forbidden Palace)
But speaking to Chinese state-backed financial publication Caixin, an official from China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said the price of pork could rise due to the ongoing outbreak.
“If the outbreak of African Swine Fever can’t be effectively controlled or even further spreads after the Chinese New Year, pork will be in short supply as farmers won’t be willing to replenish their herds,” Lu Yanchun, head of the prices monitoring centre at NDRC, told Caixin.
Mr Lu added that pork prices might see a big jump during summer or the second half of 2019.
On Chinese social media the price of pork was seen as a key issue, with one Weibo user from Sichuan province stating that pork in the region has already increased from 3 yuan ($0.61) to around 15 yuan ($3) per 500 grams this year due to the swine fever issue.
Unlike the infamous deadly swine flu virus, ASF is not yet transmittable to humans and remains bound to pigs and boars.
According to a review by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2009 swine flu epidemic killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people.