Farmers panic as deadly pig virus spreads to 22 provinces
Josephine Ma in Beijing
An outbreak of a contagious swine disease known as blue ear has spread to 22 provinces, the mainland's top veterinarian says.
Jia Youling , director of the Ministry of Agriculture's veterinary department, said the disease had infected 45,858 pigs in 289 locations in 194 counties, killing 18,597. Another 5,778 pigs were culled, he said.
Mr Jia said the outbreak caused panic among pig farmers but denied it was the direct reason for a rise in pork prices. He said the mainland had identified blue-ear disease, or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, as the main cause of the high-fever outbreaks which had spread among pigs since May last year.
'The high-fever disease was caused mainly by the blue-ear disease virus, but other viruses cannot be ruled out.' he said.
The mainland was the first place where a more virulent variant of the virus was found and the discovery had sparked intense concern from international organisations, Mr Jia said. The strain is causing a higher mortality rate among pigs.
The mainland has developed a vaccine to protect pigs from the disease and last month 12 factories were given approval to produce it.
Mr Jia said the central government had allocated 280 million yuan to subsidise the cost of vaccines for small farms. But he admitted supplies of the new vaccine could not meet demand.
He denied the outbreak was directly linked to rising pork prices, and said the increase was the result of a rise in pig feed prices and the lack of incentives among farmers following a slump in pork prices last year. However, he said farmers' incentives had been dampened by news of the blue-ear outbreak.
Pork prices increased by more than 10 per cent last month, prompting Premier Wen Jiabao to visit pig farmers to address their concerns.
Mr Jia said the outbreak began last summer and the high mortality rate had caused serious economic damage and public concern.
The central government, which allocated 20 inspection teams across the nation, only identified the virus in January.