About a quarter of the global pig population is expected to die as a result of an epidemic of African swine fever (ASF), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said.
In the past year the spread of the disease has taken policymakers by surprise and it has been particularly devastating in China — home to the world’s largest pig population.
Although Taiwan remains unaffected, the disease is also established in other Asian nations such as Vietnam and South Korea, and continues to wreak havoc in eastern Europe, where the outbreak began in 2014.
The severity of the crisis means that global pork prices are rising, spurred largely by demand from China, where as many as 100 million pigs have been lost since ASF broke out last year.
In the past few months, China has been granting export approval to foreign meat plants and signing deals around the world at a dizzying rate.
US pork sales to China have doubled, while European pork prices have reached a six-year high.
OIE vice president Mark Schipp told a news conference this week that ASF is “the biggest threat to any commercial livestock of our generation.”
He said that the spread of the disease in the past year to nations including China, which has half the world’s pig population, had inflamed a worldwide crisis.
Schipp said veterinary scientists worldwide are trying to find a vaccine for the disease, but that it is a “complex challenge” because of the nature of the virus.
While the disease does not spread to humans, it is virtually 100 percent fatal once embedded in pig populations.
ASF can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals, such as wild boar, and via ticks, but the virus can also survive several months in processed meat and several years in frozen carcasses, so meat products are a particular concern for cross-border transmission.
The outbreak in China has been particularly serious, with as many as 100 million pigs lost already according to China’s official declared inventory, IHS Markit Agribusiness Intelligence senior commodity analyst Adam Speck said.
Rabobank, a financial services firm that specializes in food and agriculture, has forecast that this year China would lose between 20 percent and 70 percent of its herd: potentially as many as 350 million pigs, a quarter of the world’s total.
Official figures state that more than 1 million pigs have been culled.
The virus has now been identified in 50 nations, including Poland, Russia and the Philippines.
The furthest west the disease has been found is in Belgium among the wild boar population. A cull is now planned in the nation.
“There have been suggestions recently from the Chinese government and industry representatives that the Chinese pig herd is ‘bottoming out’ and that we could see a recovery to something like previous levels in 2020,” said Alistair Driver, editor of Britain’s Pig World magazine. “However, most global analysts believe this is very optimistic and that, given the enormous losses so far and the continued spread of the virus across China and other Asian countries, there will be a huge deficit in pork production for the foreseeable future. The Asian ASF crisis is having an enormous impact on the global pork industry, with record export volumes pushing prices up around the world.”
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