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Food and agriculture

Pig farmers call for tougher measures as fears grow Hong Kong is not prepared for threat of African swine fever

  • Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association accuses government of being too relaxed in its approach
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 10:48pm

Pig farmers in Hong Kong have threatened to stop cooperating with the government, and said the city’s reputation as a hotbed of gastronomy could suffer if measures to prevent African swine fever were not significantly tightened.

On Saturday, Chong Chung-ping, chairman of the Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association, said most of the city’s 43 pig farmers wanted authorities to kill all the livestock in a slaughter house if a pig was found to be infected, not just a few as is presently the case.

And, he warned that without a more stringent culling policy, the local pig farming industry might eventually die out if the highly contagious virus spread to the city and escaped partial culling.

“Once Hong Kong becomes an affected area, all the edible products related to pork will face an export restriction, including mooncakes containing lard. In that case, Hong Kong will lose its reputation as a city of gastronomy,” Chong said.

So far there have been no cases of the virus in Hong Kong, or on farms in mainland China that supply live pigs to the city, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Shiu-chi said on Thursday.

Chong also warned the public to expect the cost of pork to go up, while pig farmers told the government to stop importing pigs and pork products from mainland provinces, and cities that have reported an outbreak of the disease.

“We know it’s impossible for the Hong Kong government to end the import from the mainland,” Chong said. “We hope the mainland authorities can suspend their exports when sick pigs are found.”

Mainland pig farms supply some 4,000 pigs to Hong Kong a day, while local pig farms provide about 300, according to the association chairman.

Swine fever outbreak prompts call to slaughter Hong Kong pigs separately

The call for industrywide action came a day after officials defended the city’s prevention measures, which were criticised for being too relaxed. Fears that were compounded by the discovery of the disease in Zhuhai, just 60km from Hong Kong on the opposite bank of the Pearl River Delta.

Thomas Sit Hon-chung, assistant director of inspection and quarantine at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said on Friday that all pigs at a local farm would be killed if some of them were found to have caught the virus.

In addition, all farms within 3km of an infected one would have to suspend their supply to the market until official testing showed negative results, he added.

Dr Ho Yuk-yin, controller at the Centre for Food Safety, said stringent checks on local slaughter houses were in place, and pigs were unlikely to fall ill during their short time there.

However, Chong said once an infected pig was found in a slaughter house, all the other pigs in the same house should be killed, and the house should be closed for seven to 14 days while it was sterilised.

“The government’s existing practise is that only the other pigs in the same lot as the infected pig will be eliminated, which can’t guarantee a complete purge of the virus,” Chong said.

“Given that there is no effective cure or vaccine, once the virus is brought into Hong Kong, the local pig farming industry will be risking extinction.”

Chong said before the virus reached Guangdong earlier this week, industry representatives had been talking with the agriculture department for several months, trying to push it to come up with a prevention plan.

“We will not talk to the department anymore,” Chong said. “Other non-cooperation measure include that we will not allow the department’s officials to come to our farms for regular examinations of hygiene and stock.”

A government spokesman said if a farm was found to have sent pigs to slaughter houses within the 96 hours before discovery of an infection, all pigs from the farm must be killed regardless of their health.

“Pig farmers affected will be compensated at market prices,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman added that the government laboratory had examined 31 samples by December 20, and had found no evidence of swine fever.

Additional reporting by Kanis Leung