Approximately one quarter of the global pig population is expected to die as a result of the African swine fever epidemic, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The worldwide crisis, which has seen the virus being identified in 50 countries, has been caused in part by growing demand for pork in China – where as many as 100 million pigs have died since the swine fever broke out there last year.
The disease has spread freely following the country’s granting of export approval to foreign meat plants and signing deals around the world at a high rate, The Guardian reports. Subsequently, US pork sales to China have doubled, while European pork prices have reached a six-year high.
African swine fever is virtually 100% fatal in pigs and can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals – such as wild boar – and via ticks. It cannot be spread to humans.
The virus can also survive for months in processed meat and for several years in frozen carcasses, so meat products are a particular concern for cross-border transmission.
Dr. Mark Schipp, vice-president of the OIE, said veterinary scientists worldwide are trying to find a vaccine for the disease. However, he said it was a ‘complex challenge’ because of the nature of the virus.
The outbreak in China is perhaps the worst, with approximately 100 million pigs lost to the virus already, according to China’s official declared inventory. And it only looks set to continue.
Rabobank, a financial services company specialising in food and agriculture, has predicted China will lose between 20% and 70% of its pig population this year alone – potentially as many as 350 million pigs, a quarter of the world’s total.
African swine fever has so far been identified in 50 countries, including China, Poland, Russia, South Korea and the Philippines. The furthest west the disease has been found is in Belgium among the wild boar population. A cull is now planned in the country.
Alistair Driver, editor of the UK’s Pig World, said despite suggestions from the Chinese government we could see a recovery by 2020, most global analysts believe this is far too optimistic.
Given the enormous losses so far and the continued spread of the virus across China and other Asian countries, there will be a huge deficit in pork production for the foreseeable future.
He ended by saying the Asian ASF crisis is having an ‘enormous impact’ on the global pork industry, with record export volumes pushing prices up around the world.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).