Pig farmers say they have lost thousands to foot-and-mouth
As the poultry trade battles to come to grips with bird flu, pig farmers say they have been hit hard by foot-and-mouth disease.
Wong Kwong-wing, chairman of the Hong Kong Pig Farms Association, said about 10,000 pigs from 100 farms had been infected with the disease in the past 10 months. There are about 320 pig farms in Hong Kong.
Mr Wong claimed over-crowding was the major factor for the rapid transmission of the disease.
But Thomas Chan Chun-yuen, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said he had received only 'one or two' reports of the infection from pig farms over the past two months. He also stressed that the Government would not pay compensation to pig farmers for their losses.
The department said it had received reports of infection from only seven farms since April, involving 2,132 pigs. Of these, 294 had died.
A spokesman said: 'There was no evidence to suggest that foot-and-mouth disease in Hong Kong was more serious this year than in previous years.'
In the previous financial year, the department received reports from 13 farms involving 2,330 pigs.
Assistant director Dr Leslie Sims called on farmers to contact authorities if their animals were infected. He also reminded them to keep their farms clean and have their animals vaccinated.
Professor Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, and microbiologist Dr Paul Chan Kay-sheung, of Chinese University, both stressed that foot-and-mouth disease was primarily an animal infection and would not be transmitted to humans through eating.
Professor Peiris said although there were several overseas cases in which pig farmers were infected through close-contact with the livestock, the patients suffered only skin lesions and minor fever. The symptoms disappeared in two or three days, he said.
'So people should not worry or avoid eating pork,' he said. 'Of course, they should prepare the food thoroughly.'
Dr Chan said foot-and-mouth disease was highly infectious among animals and could cause a high number of deaths. Animals suffered fever and blistering in their mouths and on their feet.
He said the disease was common in the region.
Last year local farms supplied 465,000 live pigs to the market, accounting for 20 per cent of the total supply. The remaining 80 per cent, or 1,859,000, were imported from the mainland.