By Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu
GUOGEZHUANG, China/BEIJING (Reuters) – China will adjust its rules on controlling the spread of African swine fever to keep pork supplies stable, said an official on Friday, even as the country reported the first cases of the disease to be discovered in its capital.
The highly contagious disease was found on two farms in a southwestern district of sprawling Beijing.
At a checkpoint outside of Guogezhuang village in the Fangshan district on Friday, workers in white suits sprayed cars with disinfectant. A Reuters journalist was stopped at the checkpoint and barred from reaching one of the affected farms.
China has issued strict bans on moving pigs out of provinces and regions infected with the disease, leading to excess supply in some areas and shortages in others. Some farmers are struggling to sell their pigs or facing very low prices in areas were supplies are plentiful.
“Restrictions on trans-region transport of pigs and products have affected the production cycle of some enterprises,” Feng Zhongwu, chief of the animal husbandry and veterinarian bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, told a press briefing in Beijing.
“We will adjust our supervision measures based on the production and supplies situation,” he said.
Authorities would make the transport of piglets easier, while still controlling the risk of spreading African swine fever, he said.
China will also make it possible to slaughter hogs near affected areas to relieve pressure on farms with growing herds that cannot be moved to places with higher demand due to the transport ban.
Hog supplies in the national market are still relatively ample, however, said Feng, as pigs culled because of African swine fever were only a tiny percentage of the overall pigs sent to slaughter in China.
He said supplies in Beijing would not be affected by the outbreak in Fangshan.
Beijing will strengthen the transport of pigs and products from major producing provinces to consuming areas to stabilise prices, he said.
The Beijing city government sought to reassure the public, noting that African swine fever cannot spread to humans, and that meat sold at city markets undergoes “strict inspections”.
Meat processed in China has been found to contain the virus. China’s Xiamen Airlines will stop serving pork from Nov. 24 due to African swine fever outbreaks, CAAC News, a publication run by China’s aviation regulator, reported on Friday.
China has so far confirmed 73 cases of African swine fever in 20 provinces, including the latest two outbreaks in Beijing, with a total culling of 600,000 pigs as of Nov. 22, Feng said.
China produced 702 million pigs in 2017, according to official data.
Forty-six percent of all outbreaks investigated so far have been caused by people or vehicles spreading the disease, Huang Baoxu, deputy director of the China Animal Health and Epidemiology Center, told reporters.
Feeding kitchen waste to pigs has caused 23 cases, while 13 outbreaks have been spread by transport of live hogs and products across regions, Huang said.
The centre had not yet found any contaminated feed supplies, Huang later told Reuters.
The virus found last week in a wild boar in the far north is a different strain to the one found in domestic pigs, and very likely came from outside China, Huang also said. He warned that there are rising risks of the new strain being transmitted to farm-raised pigs.
“The complexity and time-span to control the spread of African swine fever will increase significantly once there is an interactive infection between wild boars and domestic pigs.”
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue)