Pig production in China is gradually returning to normal and outbreaks of the deadly African swine fever are finally slowing, according to the Chinese vice-minister for agriculture. The disease has swept through China, the world’s top pork producer, since it was first reported in August last year, with no cure or vaccine to halt its progress. Asked about reports of recent fresh outbreaks of swine fever, agriculture vice-minister Yu Kangzhen said China had seen only 44 new cases in the first six months of 2019, bringing the total number of reported cases so far to 143, with 1.16 million pigs culled. However, farmers have said that many outbreaks are not being reported, with local officials in many provinces unwilling to verify the disease. As many as half of China’s breeding pigs are estimated to have died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the spreading disease, twice as many as officially acknowledged. Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Yu said the government had a “zero tolerance policy” on not reporting outbreaks of the disease, adding that such cases would be severely punished. But, he said, there were still challenges in controlling the spread of the fever. Feeding kitchen waste to pigs was banned but still taking place, Yu said. The virus can remain in meat that has not been properly cooked and infect pigs that eat food scraps. The capability of China’s many small farmers to prevent the disease was weak, he added. Traders pig out on soaring pork stocks as deadly pig disease rocks China Yu said that research and development of a vaccine to prevent swine fever was only in the early stages and faced many challenges and technical bottlenecks. He declined to comment on a timeline for the likely launch of a Chinese-made vaccine. Chinese state media reported in May that government researchers were ready to start clinical trials on a vaccine after identifying suitable candidates.