China scrambles to raise millions of fever-free pigs
For Chinese authorities, struggling with the rapid spread of African swine fever, a disease that’s threatening to devastate the world’s largest pig industry, Russia’s number-one pork producer has the answer: get bigger and cleaner, or get out.
Miratorg, which raises three million pigs annually, not only has strict quarantine measures at every level of its farms, but it also bans workers from rearing their own pigs and from hunting wild boar. Such biosecurity has enabled it to thrive in the face of one of the world’s most dangerous swine diseases. The disease-control measures are the reason why Russian pork production is on track to double by 2019, from 2007, when African swine fever began its march across the transcontinental nation. It’s evidence that the devastating virus — which had 1,000 separate outbreaks in Russia and which halved the number of small-scale piggeries — can be managed.
Now that a virtually identical strain of the contagion — which kills pigs within a few days, but isn’t known to harm humans — has spread across neighbouring China, veterinary authorities realise that farms there may need to follow the same path as Miratorg. “When the virus appeared in Russia, about half of our pork output came from household farms, and they weren’t ready to adapt,” said Yury Kovalev, h e ad o f t h e c ou n t r y ’ s National Pig Farmers’ Union. “Small farms began to die away. It was hard for them to have adequate protection,” he said. Meantime, highly industrialised pig farms increased production despite the epidemic, according to a letter published in April by scientists at Russia’s Federal Research Centre for Virology and Microbiology. In China, control of the disease is being hindered by the millions of small pig farms and by shipping pigs from farm to farm over distances as great as 1,400 miles.
“China is learning its own lessons,” said Matthew Stone, a deputy director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health, in Paris. “There is a clear understanding that farm biosecurity practices have been a challenge for them, and something they need to address,” he said. Nowhere is the impetus greater. China’s pork industry is much larger than Russia’s. It’s home to half the planet’s pigs, which supply a €113bn pork industry and are the dominant source of meat. Neighbours, including North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, also depend on pork. African swine fever took hold in China four months ago and transmission has accelerated, with at least one fresh outbreak a day, on average, last month. It’s now encroached on major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Kunming.
Workers disinfect passing vehicles in an area hit by the African swine flu outbreak on the outskirts of Beijing, China.