Lethal Pig Virus in Fourth China Province Raises Disease Threat
(Bloomberg) -- African swine fever was confirmed in a fourth Chinese province, indicating further spread of the lethal disease that threatens to disrupt the world’s largest pig industry.
The virus killed 340 pigs and infected 430 others on farms in the eastern province of Zhejiang, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs confirmed Thursday, four days after it was reported in neighboring Jiangsu, and some 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) from where an initial outbreak was discovered Aug. 3 in northeastern Liaoning province.
The emergence of African swine fever is a major threat to China. The country has more than half the world’s swine, and pork is the country’s principal source of dietary protein. Besides being capable of killing every domestic pig it infects, the virus is highly contagious and persistent. There’s no vaccine to protect hogs from catching it and culling infected animals and imposing strict containment measures are the way to limit further spread.
“Outbreaks could become quite serious,” said Qiu Huaji, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Harbin Veterinary Research Institute. “The affected regions may be wider than earlier expected.”
Trucked 1,400 Miles
Thirty pigs killed by the virus in Zhengzhou, in Henan province, had been legally transported about 1,400 miles from a live swine market in Heli, a town near Jiamusi in Heilongjiang province, according to Zhang Zhongqiu, the director general of the China Animal Disease Control Center.
Transportation of livestock across such distances will expand the area potentially exposed to the virus, complicating disease surveillance and control, especially with millions of smallholder-farmers less likely to understand the threat and to report cases, Qiu said.
Authorities have launched intensive nationwide checks on individual farms and offered to compensate farmers for any loss of livestock. The measures are intended to improve containment measures after an outbreak of another viral disease, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, known as blue-ear disease in China, in 2006 caused the death of millions of pigs and led to a quadrupling in pork prices the following year.
“If farmers are reasonably compensated, they will not try sell their dead or sick hogs,” said Feng Yonghui, chief analyst with an industry portal www.soozhu.com. That will remove a major cause of disease-spread, he said.
If outbreaks widen, farmers may be forced to cull breeding sows, limiting the supply of slaughter-age pigs in future years, said Zhu Zengyong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Agricultural Information Institute. So far, 20,000 to 30,000 hogs have been culled, he said.
China has the world’s largest swine herd with 433 million head as of December, according to the agriculture ministry. Pork production may reach 54.2 million metric tons this year, a quantity more than six times greater than the amount traded on the global market, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
China’s pork supply is predicted to exceed demand this year. The slaughtering of breeding sows may buoy domestic pork prices over the following two years and prompt the country to import more pork in 2019, said Pan Chenjun, an analyst with Rabobank in Hong Kong.
Weak domestic pork prices this year prompted farmers to use more food scraps from restaurants, which were previously banned from being fed to pigs, Pan said. The practice raises the risk of pigs ingesting contaminated meat, causing the disease to spread, she said.
The virus -- which does not cause disease in humans -- is inactivated in unprocessed meat when it’s heated to at least 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes.
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