To prevent African swine fever spreading from China to Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has urged Beijing to not cover up facts about the epidemic and that it has an obligation to provide up-to-date disease prevention information.
Taiwan Sugar Corp (Taisugar), Taiwan’s largest pig farming business, also warned that if the disease enters Taiwan, it would have a far greater economic impact than foot-and-mouth disease, as there is no vaccine.
Disease prevention is a long-term undertaking, it added.
The government has quickly implemented comprehensive prevention measures, treating the disease as a serious threat to national security. On Dec. 17, a central emergency operation center overseeing African swine fever prevention efforts was established by the Council of Agriculture (COA). Article 45-1 of the Statute for Prevention and Control of Infectious Animal Disease (動物傳染病防治條例) was also amended, taking effect on the same day.
People who illegally import pork products face a fine of NT$200,000 (US$6,493) if they are first-time offenders and NT$1 million for subsequent breaches. The heavy fines and rigorous quarantine checks are intended to keep the disease out of Taiwan.
The African swine fever outbreak in China has spun out of control, with at least 23 provinces affected, according to Chinese government data.
Yet, in an attempt to conceal the severity of the epidemic, reports from state-run China Central Television (CCTV) say there has been no large-scale spread of the disease.
Chinese like pork, and there are more than 400 million pigs in China. If the disease spins completely out of control, the situation could get so bad that no pork would be available for consumption, damaging related meat product businesses.
The potential effect is difficult to estimate. If the epidemic spreads, all neighboring countries would be at risk. Having close and frequent contact with Chinese people and commodities, Taiwan is likely to be affected and become one of the main disaster areas. If African swine fever enters Taiwan, the nation would pay a higher price than China.
The foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 1997 was caused by infected pigs being smuggled from China, inflicting losses of NT$170 billion on Taiwan’s pig farming industry and related businesses. Taiwan could be listed as free of foot-and-mouth disease by 2020 if no more outbreaks occur. Any small disease control mishap at this key moment would ruin everything.
African swine fever is so frightening because there is no vaccine or treatment for it. Many infected countries have taken 20 to 30 years to be listed as being free from it. If Taiwan continues to bear the stigma of foot-and-mouth disease, being branded as an African swine fever-affected area would make it more difficult to restore the nation to its former glory as a massive pork exporter.
If there is an outbreak, the disease would have an adverse effect on many industries, including pork product, food processing and restaurant businesses. Taiwan’s favorite dish, braised pork rice, could vanish from menus for a period.
This is how harmful African swine fever could be, and Taiwan faces a high risk of being infected.
The two sides of the Taiwan Strait have close and frequent exchanges, with import and export trade amounting to hundreds of billions of US dollars every year, which inevitably includes Chinese meat products.
Furthermore, there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese spouses married to Taiwanese, and it is normal for them to bring meat products from their hometowns back to Taiwan. Taiwanese businesspeople and tourists also visit China 5 to 6 million times every year. They could bring Chinese meat products containing the virus back home with them.
Another major gap in disease prevention lies in cross-strait e-commerce, as Chinese meat products are often involved. Even if only a few of the meat products commonly seen in packages entering Taiwan slip through the net, it could result in a massive epidemic. This explains why the government is imposing such heavy fines and quarantine controls to block Chinese meat products from entering Taiwan through land, sea or air channels.
One of the biggest challenges to disease prevention efforts is public awareness, as people often ignore the severity of an epidemic, and expertise is often opposed based on ideological grounds, which results in regular preventive measures being impeded.
The blue camp’s criticism of the national disaster warning text message sent out on Dec. 12 by the COA’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine — saying that it was tantamount to “crying wolf” and demanding that the Ministry of Health and Welfare make improvements — is just one example.
Sending out epidemic prevention information to cellphones is actually an effective method with a high penetration rate. If it had not been for certain lawmakers making irrational statements upon seeing the word “China” in connection to African swine fever, the authorities would not have had to deal with angry questions about the issue.
The same mindset lies behind the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) proposal of the referendum on “nuclear-contaminated food.” There are all kinds of internationally recognized and certified standards to reference when determining whether the government should allow food product imports from five Japanese prefectures after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, and even without a referendum, the government would never import food products from an area contaminated by radiation.
However, if the products have not been contaminated and are harmless to humans, why would the government ban imports? Perhaps the real reason behind a certain political party’s untiring opposition is ideological, and based on the word “Japan.”
With the increasing threat of African swine fever spreading from China to Taiwan, the government, political parties and the public should all participate in prevention efforts by weaving an impenetrable protective net to ensure the safety of the pig farming industry and the economy.
In other words, the government’s rigorous disease prevention push is key in the war against African swine fever, but the war cannot be won without increasing awareness among businesses and the public.
Not buying and not bringing foreign meat products into the nation will block the virus from entering Taiwan, so that hog and related industries can be restored to their former glory, and Taiwanese can continue to enjoy their delicious braised pork rice.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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