African Swine Fever Spread: An Update on China’s Slaughterhouses

Starting July 1, abattoirs must routinely test all batches of hogs representative of the farm from which they came, said an order Tuesday. ( Farm Journal )

China continues to ramp up efforts to control the deadly pig virus destroying its $128-billion pork industry by mandatory testing for African swine fever (ASF) at more than 10,000 slaughterhouses throughout the country.

Starting July 1, abattoirs must routinely test all batches of hogs representative of the farm from which they came, said an order Tuesday. This is just one more measure the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has instituted to arrest an increase this year in the number of villages reporting cases of the viral disease, Bloomberg reports

The ministry announced in April that slaughterhouses must buy diagnostic equipment or arrange a third party to perform the tests. By May 15, every slaughterhouse will be required to have a veterinarian present to supervise testing

Stop Swill Feeding
ASF can survive in meat, but it is not harmful to humans. However, swill feeding, or feeding pigs contaminated meat waste, is one way the disease can spread from pig to pig. 

Studies of 68 outbreaks showed that almost half were caused by the spread of virus material on vehicles and on non-disinfected workers; a third were caused by feeding pigs contaminated swill or food scraps; and 19% were due to the transportation of infected pigs and meat products across regions, Bloomberg reports.

In late 2018, Chinese authorities asked food producers to trace the origins of their pork supplies after some products tested positive for ASF. Pork dumplings from a Chinese frozen-food producer Sanquan Food Co. were found with the virus in February, triggering a slump in the company’s shares. 

A Highly Virulent Virus

Blood is the most infectious source of ASF and one drop, or 0.05 milliliters, from an acutely infected pig may contain 50 million virus particles. Experimental studies have found that just one virus particle ingested in contaminated drinking water or fodder may be sufficient to infect a single pig, Bloomberg reports.

Contamination of slaughterhouses with pigs infected with ASF can create reservoirs of the virus that can be transmitted to exposed pigs and wild boars, the ministry said in a statement.

“Timely detection of the virus to eliminate hidden dangers is a must to prevent and control animal diseases and ensure product quality and safety,” it said.

Incidences of pig blood discarded directly into sewers, potentially contaminating the environment, were reported after the government temporarily disallowed the use of the product in animal feed last year, Huang said. 

In January, the government permitted the use of blood in feed as long as the liquid is heat-treated to render any virus non-infectious.

Call for Compliance
Abattoirs which aren’t compliant with the testing requirement by July 1 may be closed down, the ministry said. A list of all legally compliant pig-slaughter enterprises will be available by July 31.

Bloomberg reports that many small and mid-sized abattoirs may not be able to afford the testing regimen. Meat packers are seeking government subsidies to support testing capabilities, which cost one large company operating 18 slaughterhouses $3.7 million to implement, an official said.

Most experts argue sampling should be done on farms – it’s too late when it’s at the slaughterhouse. However, Bloomberg reports that sampling abattoirs is simpler than conducting surveillance on China’s 26 million swine farms. 

Find news, updates and tools about African swine fever here

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