China, as a major producer of pork, is facing an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF). Its detection, in areas more than one thousand kilometres apart within the country, could mean the deadly pig virus may spread to other Asian countries anytime, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in late August 2018.
So far, in efforts to control the spread of the disease, Chinese authorities have culled more than 24,000 pigs in four provinces. China accounts for approximately half the global population of swine, estimated at 500 million. Its value chain involves a very large and wide range of producers from small family holdings to large-scale commercial operators.
There is no effective vaccine to protect swine from the disease. And, while the disease poses no direct threat to human health, outbreaks can be devastating, with the most virulent forms lethal in 100 per cent of infected animals.
The ASF virus is very hardy and can survive long periods in very cold and very hot weather, and even in dried or cured pork products. The strain detected in China is similar to one that infected pigs in eastern Russia in 2017 but, so far, and while the investigations continue, the China Animal Health and Epidemiology Center has found no conclusive evidence of this latest outbreak's source or linkages.
The outbreak hast to be stamp out as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, a complete restriction in the movement of animal and pork products is not the best way to counter this challenge, as it could lead to illegal methods of transportation, FAO warns.
China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs started working with FAO a few years ago; together they have set up an ASF contingency plan and developed diagnostic capacity. They have also jointly developed a Field Epidemiology Training Programme for Veterinarians which aims to strengthen epidemiological investigation, disease situation tracking, risk assessment and emergency preparedness.