African swine fever, a highly contagious virus, has spread to every province in China. The country is the world’s biggest pork producer, and home to half the pigs on the planet. In the last year it has reported 149 outbreaks. Some 1.2m pigs have been culled, according to official statistics. Unofficial reports suggest far bigger losses. Rabobank, a Dutch bank, reckons that by year-end, as many as 200m pigs could be lost to disease or slaughter, leading to a 30% drop in pork production.
Although African swine fever is not harmful to humans, it kills up to 90% of pigs. Infected animals stop eating, hemorrhage and die, often within a week. There is no vaccine or cure. Before 2007 the disease had been eliminated from most of the world, with the exception of Africa. It reemerged in Georgia in early 2007 and spread to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
The disease was probably introduced to China via its northern neighbor, with which it shares a 4,300km (2,670-mile) border, or through infected pork products imported from Europe.
China’s first outbreak was reported on August 3rd 2018 in Liaoning, a coastal province in the north-east of the country. Chinese authorities scrambled to contain the disease, culling tens of thousands of pigs and banning transport of the animals into and out of affected areas. It did not work. The virus spread to every part of the country. It eventually crossed into neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
With pork prices in the country expected to jump by 70% year-on-year in the second half of 2019, China’s favorite meat may soon be off many dinner tables.