African swine fever spreads to one of China’s biggest pig-farming regions

  • Ministry confirms death of 10 pigs infected with the virus at a farm in Sichuan province after 13 died in Hubei
  • Pork industry is struggling to contain the disease, and more than 100,000 pigs have been culled
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 10:41pm

China’s pork industry is struggling to contain the spread of African swine fever, which has now reached the southwest of the country – one of its major pig-producing areas.

Ten of 16 pigs infected with the virus have died at a farm in Yibin, Sichuan province, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday. In central Hubei province, another 13 pigs died from the disease on Thursday following reports of an outbreak there last month.

African swine fever has now spread to most of China’s pig-farming regions, and Sichuan is one of the biggest.

The first reported case was confirmed in Liaoning province in August, followed by cases across the northeast in Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia and Hebei. Liaoning remains the worst-hit province in the country.

Outbreaks have since been discovered in southern pork-loving region, including in Fujian. To date, 18 of China’s 31 provinces and regions have been affected by the disease and more than 100,000 pigs have been culled in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.

In Guangdong, Xu Jianxian, who has 20,000 pigs at his farm in Zhaoqing, said he was doing everything he could to prevent an outbreak.

“I have not heard of any infection in Guangdong province – I have very good prevention measures in place,” Xu said. “I try to avoid letting outsiders into my pig farm, I vaccinate all my pigs and I disinfect the farm twice a week.”

The virus is transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals, as well as contaminated food, animal feed and people travelling between places. But there is no vaccine or cure available for African swine fever and the mortality rate can be as high as 100 per cent. It has not yet been known to infect humans.

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The outbreak in China could have spread from Russia, according to a China Newsweek report. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found the strain of virus in Chinese pigs was similar to the one in Russia, Georgia and Estonia. An outbreak in Irkutsk in Siberia, 1,000km from the Chinese border, in March last year was the first time the disease had spread into eastern Russia.

China reversed an embargo on Russian meat products in July 2016 and the Russian meat industry is expected to make up to US$1 billion from exports to China by 2020. It began exporting pork to China in August but border inspections have been finding smuggled pork products since 2016, according to China Newsweek.

Meanwhile, Russia has said that the African swine flu outbreak in China was likely to have spread through pork imports from the European Union, Reuters reported.

The FAO warned in March that the infection could spread further into Southeast Asia, and neighbouring Taiwan has already begun taking precautions. On Thursday, Taiwan raised fines for tourists who illegally bring in meat products from outside the country from NT$15,000 (US$490) to NT$300,000, according to The Liberty Times. It is also cracking down on online shops that sell products made with Chinese pork.

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In Hong Kong, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Sunday said authorities had been in close contact with their mainland counterparts to monitor the outbreaks. “We are all very concerned,” Chan said, adding that cleaning and disinfection of abattoirs, farms and other high-risk places would be stepped up.

A spokesman for the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said imports of breeding pigs from the mainland were suspended when the virus was detected and it had reminded local pig farmers to strengthen biosecurity measures.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng