The Chinese government issued a rare admission of failure Wednesday, saying that there had been “weaknesses” in the handling of an African swine fever epidemic which has now spread to all of China’s 25 provinces.
In a statement released by the State Council, the government said there had been problems in a wide-range of areas as the country attempted to battle the fast-spreading and currently incurable disease.
“There are many weaknesses in the live pig management inspection chain … Live hog transportation isn’t strict enough, there is insufficient capacity to test for African swine fever in slaughterhouses, basic animal quarantine isn’t comprehensive and the ability to prevent epidemics is weak,” the report said. “The situation is still complicated and severe.”
China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in June that the country’s pig stocks were down by a quarter compared to a year ago, while the stocks of breeding sows were down 23.9% year-on-year compared to May 2018.
At a press briefing Thursday, Yu Kangzhen, China’s vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs claimed the outbreaks of African swine fever had “slowed,” and said progress was being made on a vaccine.
“Although we have a good start and have made progress in vaccine research, there may be many uncertainties at the later stage of the research,” he said. “China attaches high importance to the research for the vaccine.”
The Chinese government said on Thursday that in total 1.16 million pigs had been culled as a result of the epidemic, but research by Rabobank suggested that up to 200 million animals could be affected.
The Dutch bank suggested that losses to China’s pig stocks could eventually be as high as 70%.
“China’s pork consumption has dropped by 10% to 15%, year-to-date, by our estimates, driven by food safety concerns,” the bank said in a June report. According to official Chinese government statistics, as of April there were 375 million pigs in China.
Pork farmers across the country have been devastated by the disease, which is fatal to pigs but has no noticeable affect on humans as yet.
“It began with a few pigs a day, then it was hundreds,” Sun Dawu, a pig farmer and agricultural entrepreneur from Hebei province, China said in May. “In the end, 800 pigs would die in a single day.”
Some farms have been entirely wiped out by the disease, losing as many as 20,000 pigs to the fever or to the culling. Pork is a huge part of the Chinese diet and prices have risen as a result of the epidemic.
Since being first detected in China in August 2018, swine fever has spread to other countries in the Asia region.
Outbreaks have been detected in Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia, and more than two million pigs have been culled as a result.