Pig dis­ease spread­ing in Asia as na­tions struggle to stop it

The Prince George Citizen - - Money - Hau Dinh and Sam McNeil

HANOI, Viet­nam — Asian na­tions are scram­bling to con­tain highly con­ta­gious African swine fever, with Viet­nam culling 2.6 mil­lion pigs and China re­port­ing a mil­lion dead in an un­prece­dent­edly huge epi­demic some fear is out of con­trol.

Smaller out­breaks have been re­ported in Hong Kong, Tai­wan, North Korea, Cam­bo­dia and Mon­go­lia af­ter cases were first re­ported in China’s north­east in Au­gust. The UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ported in its weekly up­date on Thurs­day the in­fec­tions had reached Laos.

With pork sup­plies dwin­dling as lead­ing pro­ducer China and hard-hit Viet­nam de­stroy huge num­bers of hogs and tighten con­trols on ship­ments, prices have soared by up to 40 per cent glob­ally and caused short­ages in other mar­kets.

“This is the largest an­i­mal dis­ease out­break in his­tory,” said Dirk Pfi­ef­fer, a vet­eri­nary epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the City Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

“We’ve never had any­thing like it.”

In South Korea, where di­ets rely heav­ily on pork, there is con­cern an out­break could hurt an in­dus­try with 6,300 farms rais­ing more than 11 mil­lion pigs.

African swine fever is harm­less to peo­ple but fa­tal and highly con­ta­gious for pigs, with no known cure.

Since last Au­gust, one mil­lion pigs have been culled in China. It has re­ported 139 out­breaks in all but two of its 34 prov­inces, the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion says.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture fore­casts China’s to­tal hog herd will shrink by 18 per cent this year to 350 mil­lion an­i­mals, the low­est since the 1980s. This year’s Chi­nese pork out­put might fall by up to 35 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Rabobank, a Dutch bank.

Viet­nam re­ported in mid-May that 1.2 mil­lion pigs, or about five per cent of its to­tal herds, had died or been de­stroyed. FAO said Thurs­day that the num­ber has risen to 2.6 mil­lion, and Viet­nam said mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cers were mo­bi­lized to help con­tain the out­break.

Rabobank ex­pects Viet­namese pork pro­duc­tion to fall 10 per cent this year from 2018.

The mass culling in Viet­nam could sink many farm­ers deeper into poverty, said Wan­ta­nee Kal­pravidh, a re­gional co-or­di­na­tor of FAO’s Emer­gency Cen­ter for Trans­bound­ary An­i­mal Dis­ease.

Last month, Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged au­thor­i­ties to pre­vent the dis­ease, which has spread to 58 of 63 prov­inces, from es­ca­lat­ing into an epi­demic.

Viet­nam’s farm min­istry re­ports it has so far culled eight per cent of its 30 mil­lion pigs.

In My Duc, a sub­urb of Hanoi, dis­in­fect­ing lime pow­der has been scat­tered around empty pig farms and check­points set up to con­trol ship­ments.

“We have to pre­vent and fight this dis­ease like fight­ing an en­emy,” Phuc told Cab­i­net of­fi­cials.

Farmer Nguyen Van Hoa lamented that only three pigs had died from the fever but au­thor­i­ties culled 40 of his pigs. They were among 14,000 hogs buried in My Duc dis­trict in the past month.

About 2.4 mil­lion Viet­namese house­holds en­gage in small-scale pig farm­ing, a large share of the 30 mil­lion hogs raised in an in­dus­try worth $18 bil­lion, one of the world’s largest.

In Cam­bo­dia, more than 2,400 pigs have died or were culled since April in an eastern prov­ince bor­der­ing Viet­nam, FAO said.

Still, Sem Oun, a 58-year-old farmer and fa­ther of two in Ta Prum, a vil­lage near the cap­i­tal Ph­nom Penh, frets that the ill­ness could spread from Viet­nam.

“I don’t have any other job and my income that pro­vides for my en­tire fam­ily re­lies solely on these pigs. If they die be­cause of swine flu then ev­ery­body in the fam­ily will die too,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Hong Kong au­thor­i­ties have killed 10,700 pigs in two out­breaks, in­clud­ing one trig­gered by an an­i­mal im­ported from the main­land that was found to be in­fected. Two dead pigs in­fected with a virus sim­i­lar to those in main­land Chi­nese were found in Tai­wan, the FAO says.

Epi­demic fight­ing ef­forts have got­ten en­tan­gled in re­gional geopol­i­tics.

North Korea scaled back co-op­er­a­tion with South Korea af­ter the col­lapse of a Fe­bru­ary sum­mit be­tween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, ham­per­ing joint work on stem­ming the spread of the dis­ease fol­low­ing an out­break near North Korea’s border with China.

South Korea’s agri­cul­tural min­istry said that blood tests of pigs from some 340 farms near the border with the North were neg­a­tive. Fences and traps have been in­stalled near farms to pro­tect hogs from be­ing in­fected by wild boars that roam the in­ter-Korean border.

The North’s of­fi­cial Rodong Sin­mun news­pa­per said quar­an­tine ef­forts were focused on dis­in­fect­ing farms and trans­port ve­hi­cles, re­strict­ing vis­i­tors, and ban­ning the dis­tri­bu­tion of food prod­ucts con­tain­ing pork. Its ref­er­ences to na­tion­wide quar­an­tine ef­forts sug­gest the dis­ease may have spread be­yond re­gions near China.

Thai­land and other coun­tries still free of in­fec­tions have taken strong pre­ven­tive ac­tions, in­clud­ing ban­ning im­por­ta­tion of pork, sausages, ham, or ba­con.

So­rawit Ta­neeto, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Thai­land’s De­part­ment of Live­stock De­vel­op­ment, urged peo­ple to co-op­er­ate with sol­diers at check­points in border prov­inces and quar­an­tine ar­eas. Air­ports are us­ing more dogs like bea­gles to help in lug­gage in­spec­tions.

AP PHOTO BY HENG SINITH

Pigs wait for food in Ta Prum vil­lage out­side Ph­nom Penh, Cam­bo­dia on Thurs­day.

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