On Jan. 2, Reuters reported that there had been an outbreak of African swine fever on a farm with 73,000 pigs in China’s Heilongjiang Province.
The report added that 4,686 pigs had been infected and 3,766 had died, but all the farm’s pigs had to be culled.
The farm is owned by Heilongjiang Asia-Europe Animal Husbandry Co, which was established in 2016 with a minority Danish investment. It had 15,000 breeding pigs and produces about 385,000 pigs for slaughter each year.
The report also said that African swine fever was spreading to other large-scale pig farms in China. The situation was getting worse and affecting the whole production chain, including large and small farms, slaughterhouses and feed suppliers, and causing pork shortages that have pushed up prices in some areas.
If one pig is infected with the fever, every pig on the farm might become infected and die. The size of a farm affects the time it takes for all its pigs to get sick and die. It would take about a week on a farm with 100 pigs, a month on a farm with 1,000 pigs, and one-and-a-half to two months on one with 10,000.
Infected farms must carry out the standard procedure stipulated by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) by slaughtering all their pigs and incinerating or burying them locally to prevent the virus from escaping.
The procedure also calls for a temporary ban on moving pigs raised within a radius of 3km to 5km.
Since the first reported outbreak in Liaoning Province on Aug. 3 last year, African swine fever has spread across most Chinese provinces. The rapid spread of the disease shows that China has failed to adhere to the OIE’s standard procedures.
Infected pigs must have been transported to be slaughtered for sale or processing, allowing the virus to spread. If China wants to stem the rapid spread of African swine fever, it must handle infected farms in strict compliance with the organization’s methods.
There are more than 80 million pig farms in China, with more than 430 million pigs. Pork is the main source of meat for Chinese, with every two people consuming an average of one pig per year. The nation consumes 650 million pigs per year.
Since China does not produce enough pork for its own consumption, some of it has to be imported.
As of the middle of this month, official data showed that more than 800,000 pigs had been infected and slaughtered, but the true figures are likely to be much higher.
According to expert projections, tens of millions of pigs are likely to have been infected and slaughtered, and the disease is still spreading.
Taiwan’s disease control agencies must be prepared. If customs and border controls fail to keep the disease out of Taiwan, homeland disease control measures must be activated immediately.
Pig farmers must keep an eye on their pigs’ health condition at all times. Any unusual deaths must immediately be reported to disease prevention agencies. On no account should any sick pig be moved from its home farm.
Farmers must coordinate with disease control agencies to promptly deal with the situation by slaughtering all the pigs on any infected farm to eliminate the virus on site.
Taiwan is waging a protracted war to protect its pig farming industry against African swine fever — a war in which everyone must take part.
Lai Shiow-suey is a professor emeritus of National Taiwan University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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