No country safe from African swine fever - OIE
31st Oct 2019 / By Alistair Driver
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has warned that no countries are safe from the spread of African swine fever (ASF).
“We are really facing a threat that is global,” OIE director general Monique Eloit told Reuters in an interview. “The risk exists for all countries, whether they are geographically close or geographically distant because there is a multitude of potential sources of contamination.”
A quarter of the world’s pigs could die as a result of the virus, according to various reports today.
She warned that the virus could be transmitted by a tourist ‘bringing back a ham or sausage sandwich from a contaminated country, throwing it away and the garbage being reused by farmers to feed their pigs’.
There are additional risks from trading live animals and food products across borders and from small breeders using restaurant or train station waste to feed their stock, Dr Elliot added.
ASF has so far been found in 50 countries, killing hundreds of million pigs, while reshaping global meat and feed markets, the report says.
Since it was first discovered in China in August 2018, it has spread rapidly to several countries in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea and the Philippines. More countries are likely to be hit in the coming months.
“In the short term we are not going towards an improvement. We will continue to have more outbreaks in the infected countries. Neighbouring countries are at high risk and for some the question is when they will be infected,” Dr Eloit said, stressing that controls were difficult to implement.
The disease has had a massive impact on pork production in China in particular, which last year accounted for half the world’s pigs – official figures show China’s herd is approximately 40% down year-on-year. Rabobank predicts the herd will have halved by the end of the year.
This, in turn, has prompted a massive surge in pork imports from Europe, North America and Brazil that has lifted the global pork price. The price of pork in China has nearly doubled from a year ago.
Click here to see the Pig World analysis on how the UK pork sector is increasingly targeting the Chinese market, following the recent plant export approvals.
Beijing has recently set in motion a series of policies aimed at supporting the recovery of national pig production. Dr Eloit said the measures were adequate but needed to be fully implemented.
“There is a difference between what is decided on paper - I do not think there is any concern here - and how we actually get to apply them on the ground especially in countries that are very large, which have a wide variety of production,” she said
Speaking at a press conference this week, OIE president Mark Schipp warned that a sharp reduction in pig population could lead to food shortages, high pork prices and inflame a ‘world-wide crisis’.
He said it might also cause issues for products which are made from the omnivores, including the human blood-thinner heparin.
Dr Schipp said: "I don't think the species will be lost, but it's the biggest threat to the commercial raising of pigs we've ever seen. And it's the biggest threat to any commercial livestock of our generation."
While China and other affected countries have been buying up pork, there has also been ‘some substitutions using other sources of protein, which is driving up the prices of other proteins’, he said.
He explained that the spread reflects the global movement of pork and people but also the effect of tariffs and trade barriers, which sends those obtaining pork to seek out riskier sources.
Quality control is also difficult for products such as skins for sausages, salamis and similar foods. "Those casing products move through multiple countries," he added.
"They're cleaned in one, graded in another, sorted in another, partially treated in another, and finally treated in a fourth of fifth country. They've very hard to trace, through so many countries."
He praised China's efforts to battle the disease and said the outbreaks would change the way pigs are raised.
He said: "In China, previously they had a lot of backyard piggeries. They're seeing this as an opportunity to take a big step forward and move to large-scale commercial piggeries.
"The challenge will be to other countries without the infrastructure or capital reserves to scale up in those ways."
Progress has been made towards a vaccine, but the work is challenging because the virus itself has a large and complex structure, he added. He said big steps were made when scientists worked out the 3D structure of the virus.