The Year of the Pig is getting off to a rough start in China as the world’s largest consumer of pork and home to half the world’s pigs struggles to contain the spread of the African swine fever (ASF) virus.
Recent incidents, where traces of the virus were found in samples of frozen pork dumplings, suggest the outbreak is more widespread than has been reported, analysts said.
They add that the disease could have devastating socioeconomic consequences for both Chinese consumers and the global pig industry.
Over the weekend, food safety regulators in southern Hunan and northwest Gansu provinces identified traces of the virus in pork products, including frozen dumplings.
The first outbreaks of African swine flu showed up in the northeastern province of Liaoning in August of last year.
Since then, China has reported more than 100 outbreaks from 25 of the country’s 34 provincial-level administrative units, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization under the United Nations.
Of China’s population of 430 million pigs, nearly one million have been culled because there’s not yet a vaccine to prevent and halt the spread of the virus.
The losses have added pressure to local pig farmers, who are already be set with rising feed costs brought on by U.S.-China trade frictions.
Chinese authorities have worked with food manufacturers to address the latest outbreaks, but it remains unclear if all contaminated frozen pork products have been located and destroyed.
Although the virus poses no risk to human health, people are likely to be one of the carriers of the disease and can spread the virus through contaminated water or waste food.
The disease is highly contagious among domestic and wild pigs and the virus is very difficult to eradicate. It can survive for an hour at boiling temperatures, days in the environment, weeks in meat or even months in frozen meat products.
It has taken some European countries more than a decade to eradicate the virus after it was first introduced to Georgia in 2007.
Prior to recent outbreaks, Chinese authorities claimed the country’s infection had been brought under control an assertion analysts find unlikely.
“This is not impossible, but unlikely given the enormously high density of domestic pigs in China over a geographical space larger than France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined,” Dirk Pfeiffer, the chair professor of One Health from the City University of Hong Kong’s college of veterinary medicine and life sciences, said in an email to VOA.
Another challenge is China’s “high proportion of small to medium size pig farms with low biosecurity which don’t have the financial means to invest into better facilities,” he added.
The professor expressed concern over the possibility of under-reporting by Chinese farmers as they may not be provided an adequate level of compensation when pigs are culled.