China has imposed new transport restrictions after the authorities confirmed a sixth case of African swine fever (ASF).
The sixth outbreak was confirmed in Xuancheng city of eastern Anhui province, after 134 pigs died from the disease, according to Reuters. The second outbreak in the province, the farm was located around 70 km (45 miles) southeast of Wuhu city, where another African swine fever case was reported last week.
China’s agriculture ministry said it had culled more than 38,000 pigs since ASF was first confirmed in the country on August 3. The disease has been confirmed in five different provinces, with cases confirmed more than 1,000km apart, prompting fears there are likely to be more cases to come.
China faces numerous challenges as tries to keep the disease under control, not least the fact that it is home to approximately half the global pig population. Its estimated 500 million pigs are kept in anything from huge industrial units to family smallholdings and backyards.
On Sunday, following confirmation of the sixth outbreak, China imposed a ban on transporting pigs and pork products from provinces which have reported outbreaks of ASF. It will also shut live pig markets in the regions, Reuters reported. The ban will effectively prevent slaughterhouses and meat processing factories from using pigs or pork from affected regions, it said.
The concern now is how far the virus will spread, with knock-on effects for the market.
Last week, the Chinese Government warned it cannot rule out the possibility of new outbreaks. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that the rapid onset of ASF in China and its detection in areas more than 1,000 kilometres apart suggests the virus could spread to neighbouring countries, including the Korean Peninsula, ‘any time’.
“It may be very, very difficult to control this epidemic in China. And once it spreads to Asian countries, we could have big social chaos and instability,” said Young S Lyoo, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Konkuk University in South Korea.
The situation is already causing economic disruption, both within China and to its export trade. Japan suspended imports of Chinese pork after the first outbreak, while, internally, restrictions are hampering trade.
Reuters quoted an agent called Ni who trucks pigs around in Henan province, who said farmers there can no longer sell animals to other parts of the country, said
“I haven’t had any business in the past two days because there are too many pigs in the market. Prices are bad and there is not much demand,” he said, adding that he used to transport up to 700 pigs a day, but current volumes are around 700 a week.
The government said live pig from unaffected provinces cannot be transported through those that have reported infections, a move expected to cause major disruption to the country’s pig trade. Until now, authorities had only stopped transportation of pigs and products and shut live markets in and around infected areas.
Shares in meat processer Shandong Longda Meatstuff Co Ltd fell 6.3% on Monday morning, while major feed and pig farming firms Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co Ltd and New Hope Liuhe Co Ltd were also down, by 2.6% and 1.5% respectively.
The strain detected is similar to one that infected pigs in eastern Russia and neighbouring countries in 2017. There has been no conclusive evidence of the source but Wang Gongmin, from the agriculture ministry, said the outbreaks originated from outside the country, according to Reuters.
FAO chief veterinarian Juan Lubroth said movement of products, rather than pigs, is likely to be responsible for the spread of ASF to different parts of China.