Tue, Dec 25, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: China must be pressured on ASF

In view of the looming African swine fever (ASF) threat, authorities have over the past few weeks rolled out a slew of preventative measures. The government’s vigilance is commendable: It has stepped up quarantine checks at all border checkpoints; raised fines for meat smuggling to NT$200,000 (US$6,486) for first-time offenders and NT$1 million for repeat offenders; made it mandatory to heat-treat food waste used as pigfodder; opened a central emergency operations center; and scheduled a nationwide drill.

A local ASF epidemic could ruin the pig farming industry. However, despite the higher fines, a number of incidents were reported in which passengers, claiming ignorance, attempted to transport pork products from ASF-affected areas.

The Council of Agriculture (COA) said that from Tuesday last week, when the higher fines came into effect, until Sunday, customs officials reported 45 attempts to bring pork into Taiwan. Council data also showed that among 602 Chinese meat products it confiscated from Oct. 31 to Thursday last week, seven items tested positive for ASF. There have also been sporadic reports that Taiwanese who ordered goods through Alibaba’s Taobao.com — China’s biggest e-commerce Web site — received “free packets of sausages” as “gifts” with their deliveries.

Such reports are unnerving, as they suggest that epidemic-control measures still have loopholes, such as in the case of cross-border e-commerce platforms, making it imperative on the government to boost public education about swine fever prevention. They also suggest a lack of vigilance in China.

ASF is a highly contagious, viral disease that is resistant to acidic and alkaline substances, and can survive in frozen pork for 1,000 days and refrigerated pork for 100 days. Pigs cannot be vaccinated against the virus and infections cannot be cured. The virus was first reported in August in China’s Liaoning Province and as of yesterday, cases had been reported in 23 Chinese provinces and regions — although a COA official said that the number might be “meaningless,” considering China’s lack of transparency.

China’s tendency to conceal facts no doubt makes it more difficult for Taiwan to prevent an ASF outbreak. The Mainland Affairs Council said that China has not responsed to numerous attempts by the council to hold bilateral talks on cross-strait measures against the epidemic.

Being so close to China, Taiwan must take any necessary precautions, while calling attention to Beijing’s lack of transparency at such international organizations as the World Organization for Animal Health, to make preventative measures more effective.

Premier William Lai (賴清德) was right when he said: “Disease prevention should be considered a battle and every single livestock farm is like a castle defending the front line.”

The government and the public have raised their vigilance to protect the pork industry from succumbing to ASF, but in an age of globalization, when infectious diseases quickly spread between countries, more international pressure must be applied to China to fulfill its international obligations as a responsible member of the international community and help global efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.

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