Last year saw the first cases of the African swine fever virus spreading beyond China’s national borders. The highly contagious pig disease can be — and already has been — transmitted through direct contact with infected animals and kitchen waste fed to pigs, and it can survive several months in processed meat products.
Many countries have implemented a raft of measures to prevent cross-border transmission of the virus. The methods employed by many of these countries are similar to those employed by military forces engaging in biochemical warfare.
The disease is not easily checked using standard epidemic prevention. If a crack appears in Taiwan’s existing system for preventing biochemical epidemics, the pig farming industry cannot be saved simply by sacrificing one year of losses — at a cost of NT$200 billion (US$6.49 billion). If the virus really takes hold, it is possible that farmers would be unable to raise pigs again for another three decades.
If that happened, the losses would be almost unimaginable, possibly amounting to as much as NT$6 trillion. Is government policy up to the task of preventing the nation’s livestock farmers and all Taiwanese from having to face such an enormous tragedy?
The hog farming industry still has not undergone a process of high-technology reform and modernization. The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of successive administrations, which have, over the long term, made allowances for the financial needs of pig farmers, deliberately allowing them to reduce costs through breeding methods designed to support the livelihoods of small and medium-sized livestock farmers.
The question is if the livestock industry can continue to operate according to this low-cost model in the face of the prevailing international trend toward more competition, modernization and high-tech animal husbandry.
Successive administrations have failed to coordinate national resources and neglected to place an emphasis on international competitiveness. The authorities have failed to make the agricultural industry competitive, uphold public health and promote more sustainable farming methods.
If the government were willing to set aside funds for a basic development fund for the agricultural sector and adequately provide for farmers’ livelihoods, this would be a significant step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to consider this is an important issue.
If the hog farming industry collapses, food prices would inevitably go through the roof. In the longer term, farmers and consumers alike would suffer. The wider national economy would not be immune from the shock.
This is something the government must take precautions to prevent before it is too late. Use of traditional epidemic prevention methods to cope with the global spread of African swine fever is tantamount to digging one’s own grave.
Perhaps officials are unable to comprehend the serious blow that the spread of African swine fever in Taiwan would deal to the country. Is the government really unable to understand that we need to implement international standards for the prevention of biochemical attacks to ensure the sustainability of the nation’s economy?
Hwang Tsorng-chyi is a professor at National Chung Hsing University’s Department of Applied Economics.
Translated by Edward Jones
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