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Health and wellness

Hong Kong to strengthen measures against African swine fever, after pressure from local farmers

  • Virus’ spread in mainland China has already halted some supplies to city
  • Officials to stiffen rules on culling livestock, and consider faster turnover at government-run slaughterhouse
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 11:00pm

Hong Kong will strengthen its protections against African swine fever after officials came under pressure from farmers amid fears of local infection.

The new measures, in response to the virus’ spread across mainland China, will include stricter rules on culling livestock and a consideration of faster turnover at the government-run slaughterhouse.

Thomas Sit Hon-chung, assistant director of inspection and quarantine at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said on Friday the government would kill all livestock in a slaughterhouse if a pig there were found to be infected.

Under the previous policy, only a few would have been killed.

After meeting local pork industry representatives, Sit said officials would also consider their request that all pigs sent to the government slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui be killed before noon the day after they arrive there. At the moment, it usually takes about two days to slaughter them all.

The more stringent measures came after local pig farmers, who decried earlier responses as too lax, threatened not to cooperate with the government, to suspend talks and to reject officials as they conducted regular hygiene examinations.

We understand farmers’ concerns that the infection could spread among local farms
Thomas Sit, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

“We understand farmers’ concerns that the infection could spread among local farms,” Sit said. “We feel ... there is a consensus among the industry to work with the government to fend off the disease.”

As of Wednesday, 20 mainland Chinese pig farms had halted supplies to the city as the fever swept the country, with at least 92 outbreaks of the viral infection – which cannot pass to humans – reported at farms.

No cases of the virus had been detected in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesman said no licensed farm supplying the city had reported an infection.

Chong Chung-ping, chairman of the Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association, said the latest government measures had met farmers’ requirements, and that farmers were happy to hear officials would consider slaughtering pigs within a set time.

The incubation period for the virus is as short as 96 hours. Chong said it took about 30 hours to transport most pigs from the mainland to Hong Kong. It also took time for pigs to go through checking in Hong Kong and be transported to abattoirs, he said.

Chong said setting a time limit for the pigs to be slaughtered would effectively reduce the chance of a local outbreak.

“We think this measure should be introduced as soon as possible,” he said.

China reports third African swine fever outbreak in Guangdong

There were other government emergency measures. For example, if a mainland or local pig farm were found to harbour the virus and had sent pigs to slaughterhouses in the preceding 96 hours, all those pigs would be culled and other pigs in the slaughterhouses would be thoroughly checked. If it were a local pig farm, all pigs there would also be culled, and farms within 3km of the affected farm would be shut down until everything was checked.

Lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin, of the agriculture and fisheries sector, also spoke positively of the measures.

“The government response today is in line with the local pig farming industry’s basic requirements,” he said.

But he urged the government to also monitor and control local wild boars, in case of an outbreak among them.