China has for the first time broken up a criminal ring that was making and selling a fake vaccine for African swine fever, the disease that devastated the country’s pig population over the last two years. Amid a growing number of scams involving fake cures, a group of seven suspects were arrested by police in Sichuan province and the neighbouring municipality of Chongqing for selling a counterfeit vaccine to pig farmers. Overall, the group caused losses of over 18 million yuan (US$2.5 million), according to the Communist Party-run Legal Daily newspaper . A pig farmer in Sichuan’s Dianjiang County, surnamed Li, bought the fake vaccine at the end of last year to protect his herd, but more than 2,000 of his pigs still died of African swine fever, according to the newspaper on Tuesday. [Fake vaccines] have a great impact on the industry … pig farmers hate those violators very much Feng Yonghui “[Fake vaccines] have a great impact on the industry … pig farmers hate those violators very much,” said Feng Yonghui, chief analyst at pig farming industry news portal Soozhu.com. African swine fever, which is harmless to humans but deadly to pigs, first appeared in China in August 2018 and has killed around half of China’s pig population, resulting in a severe shortage of the staple meat in China. China has claimed the disease has been brought under initial control, although has not been completely eliminated and no officially approved vaccine is yet available. A total of 13 cases of the disease have been discovered since March, half of which were in Sichuan province and Chongqing, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. The most recent case occurred in the city of Bazhong in Sichuan province on April 21. According to the Legal Daily , the vaccine offered by the group was actually an out of date drug intended to treat a poultry disease. The group had removed the original label, claiming it was a “trial vaccine” to cure African swine fever. Unauthorised vaccines for African swine fever have become rampant in China, with the agricultural ministry issuing a statement in November that all vaccines on sale were fake. Farmers who use illegal vaccines will not be eligible for financial support if their pigs are slaughtered after testing positive for African swine fever, according to a direction published by the ministry at the end of March. China’s pig farmers grapple with skyrocketing price for soybeans The Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, China’s top research body on animal diseases, said at the start of March that it had developed an African swine fever vaccine that showed safe and effective results in laboratory testing two months ago, but it had yet to go through clinical trials. Both supply and demand for pork is shrinking in China due to a mix of African swine fever and the coronavirus. Sales of live hogs and pork fell 30 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, while the wholesale price of pork has fallen for 12 straight weeks, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. China imported 951,000 tonnes of pork in the first three months of 2020, an increase of 170 per cent from the same period last year, Chinese customs data showed.