The worst outbreak of fatal African Swine Fever disease ever has devastated the world’s largest pig population, that of China, over the past months. Now it is spreading to neighboring states and even threatens the United States pig herds. The political and human impact could be far worse than imagined as a de facto pandemic disease situation spreads. Globalization of agribusiness is not helping matters.
On August 3, 2018 a case of African Swine Fever (ASF) was confirmed in China’s Liaoning Province. Since then despite various measures to contain the deadly disease it has spread across China where as of November, 2019 in little more than a year, nearly half of China’s huge pig population has either died or been eliminated in a desperate effort to contain the disease. ASF is not deadly to humans but is 100% fatal to any pig that is infected. There is no known treatment to cure it. It can be spread by direct contact with an infected pig, body fluids, contact with equipment or clothing and via certain tick species.
The China Agriculture Ministry issued a report in August that the size of China’s live pig herd had declined by a very precise 38.7% from August 2018. Industry sources suspect underreporting and put the actual number at more like 50%. In any event it is huge, and has impacted the politically sensitive measure of China food price inflation over the past year. Pork is a mainstay of the Chinese diet for meat protein and considered a national security issue. Most pigs in China are raised by small-scale farmers who face ruin now. According to reports inside China this has led many desperate small farmers to try to hide the presence of ASF in their herds, to slaughter and sell, to avoid financial ruin.
The disease is especially dangerous. According to experts it’s hard to kill. One report notes, “It lives in feces for 11 days and blood for 15 weeks. It lives in salted meat for 182 days, dried meat for almost a year, and frozen meat for three years. The Chinese love to take meat snacks with them when they travel. Rules can be bent in Asia.”
Even more alarming are reports that disposal of infected China pig carcasses is not safe.