African swine fever (ASF) has been detected in southern China for the first time, prompting fears that the virus is already widespread across the country, which is estimated to be home to half the world’s pig population.
In a second worrying development, the ASF virus has been detected in the luggage of a traveller from China at a Japanese airport.
Since ASF was detected in for the first time there in early August, China has reported more than 40 outbreaks of the highly contagious disease in 11 provinces and municipalities, culling an estimated 200,000 pigs.
Until recently the virus has been confined to the north and east of the country, but it has now spread for the first time to the country’s south, its major pork-consuming region, Reuters is reporting. Two new cases were reported in the southwestern province of Yunnan on Sunday, coming as China enters its peak pig production period ahead of the country’s most important festival, the New Year holiday in early February 2019.
The latest outbreaks were on two small farms in Zhaotong, a city in the northeast of Yunnan. On Monday, another outbreak was reported in eastern Zhejiang province.
Zhaotong is located almost 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from the city of Shenyang in the northeastern province of Liaoning where the first outbreak was reported in early August, the Reuters report said.
A total of 545 pigs had already died on the two farms in Zhaotong when the disease was confirmed. Almost 7,000 pigs in the 3-km (1.9 miles) area around the farms were due to be culled on Monday, the website of state media Yunnan Daily said.
“The thing that we worried about the most has now happened. In the southwest, everyone eats pork, no matter what their income level is,” said Feng Yonghui, chief analyst at industry portal Soozhu.com.
Pan Chenjun, a senior analyst at Rabobank is quoted as saying the virus is now ‘basically, already everywhere’. “Now there’s only some provinces that haven’t confirmed any cases but it’s very unlikely that they will be clean,” he said.
The cases in the southwest could have a major impact on the pork market, analysts warned, as the region both produces and consumes the most pork in China. Sichuan province, which borders Yunnan, is China’s biggest pig-farming region, slaughtering 69 million pigs in 2016, according to official data. The Guangxi region, also next to Yunnan, produced 33 million pigs in 2016 and has expanded output.
People in Sichuan eat 68 kg (150 pounds) of pork per person per year, according to research by Rabobank. That compares with just 20 kg in Shanxi province in northern China.
Meanwhile, Japan’s farm ministry (MAFF) said Monday that sausages in the passenger’s luggage at New Chitose Airport, in Hokkaido, tested positive for the disease, according to Kyodo News. The virus has not yet been detected in Japan and this is the first recorded case of the virus being brought to the country from overseas.
The incident dates back to October 1 when the passenger arriving from Beijing was found to have about 1.5 kilograms of heat-processed, vacuum-packed sausages. Passengers are banned from bringing pork products into the country and the sausages were confiscated and later test positive for the virus. It is unclear whether the sausages contained pork produced in China, the ministry said.
Japan was one of the first countries to ban pork exports from China after the virus was discovered there in early August.