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Food and agriculture

Hong Kong must act now to prevent African swine fever virus from crossing into local farms

  • The virus may not harm humans, but could be devastating to the local pork industry and wild pig population
  • Informal imports of pork products are a major concern, and early reporting of suspected cases will be essential
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 11:23pm

While the African swine fever virus does not cause disease in humans, it results in high mortality in affected pigs, and those losses will lead to increased pork prices. The latter is a major concern for mainland China, particularly in the lead up to the Lunar New Year, when there will be increased demand for pork and therefore increased trade, which is likely to further speed up the spread of the virus around the country and to neighbouring areas.

The most recent African swine fever outbreak in mainland China reported on December 19 has now occurred less than 40km away, in Guangdong province, and is closing in on Hong Kong (“Hong Kong on alert as first cases of African swine fever found in Zhuhai”, December 20). This also means that this virus is present in at least 22 provinces of China. There have also been two reports of this virus infection in wild boar in northern parts of China. Veterinary authorities on the mainland have been trying to stop or at least contain the spread through a wide range of measures, but they so far have been unsuccessful.

Hong Kong imports about 4,000 live pigs every day from mainland China to satisfy the local demand for pork, complemented by a few hundred pigs from local farms.

We believe that urgent steps must be taken to protect the local domestic and wild pig population from the introduction of the African swine fever virus. A key aspect of this will be to ensure early reporting of any suspected cases by local farmers and pigs imported only from infection-free farms in the mainland.

Measures like strengthened biosecurity and regular on-site inspections have to be implemented. Furthermore, there must not be any pig swill feeding allowed on Hong Kong pig farms, and each farm should be encouraged to enhance biosecurity.

Chinese pig farmers warned not to cover up African swine fever

A major concern is the informal import of pork and pork products into Hong Kong, and the effectiveness of measures to minimise these need to be improved. The severity of the situation is currently seemingly being underestimated by policymakers, largely because it is not a disease affecting humans.

With this disease, however we need to adopt a holistic approach, since it adversely impacts food supply, local farming and wildlife. Stakeholders involved in the pork value chain need to come together to deal with this imminent threat, and prevent it from compromising fresh pork supply and the livelihoods of those involved in the pork value chain (that is, local pig farmers, slaughter men, butchers, transporters, wet-market stall owners), as well as having adverse welfare impacts on local wild pigs.

Michael P. Reichel, dean and chair professor of veterinary medicine; and Dirk Pfeiffer, chair professor of One Health, CityU College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences