African swine fever scare should make Hong Kong reform slaughterhouse system
- It is important to step up biosecurity measures to deal with this specific threat, but Hong Kong needs to take a closer look at veterinary oversight of the facilities its meat comes from
We wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by professors Michael Reichel and Dirk Pfeiffer on the need for urgent steps to reduce the risk of African swine fever entering Hong Kong.
All live pigs imported from mainland China must come from infection-free farms, and it is also important to further strengthen and closely monitor biosecurity on those farms. Enforcement against illegal or improper imports of pork and pork products must be stepped up. Furthermore, there must not be any feeding of waste food on Hong Kong farms, and farmers must report suspected cases alongside strengthening their biosecurity measures.
Also, the outbreak has highlighted systemic inadequacies in our local slaughterhouse system. Most overseas slaughterhouses are overseen by official veterinary surgeons who have overall control of the entire process – view to uphold high standards in infectious disease control, food safety and animal welfare.
In Hong Kong, there is no such high-level veterinary oversight – the control and supervision of the import, ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection process is divided, with responsibilities falling under different units, some of which are not under direct veterinary supervision.
In addition, most overseas slaughterhouses have “rest days” for thorough cleaning and disinfection, whereas ours is a 24/7 operation and it is difficult to segregate different batches of animals.
African swine fever is a threat, as it may adversely impact our food supply, as well as local farms and wildlife. We should also take the opportunity to address the systemic problems in the supply chain to build future resilience. It is fortunate that the virus does not affect humans, but it should not take an unfortunate event of zoonosis to remind us of the significance of preventive veterinary public health.
Olivia Chan, Association of Veterinary Public Health and Animal Welfare