China works to contain outbreak of African swine fever
A worker sorts pig carcasses at the Tianhe pork processing factory in Guangzhou, in south China's Guangdong province Monday, Aug. 6, 2007. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)
Published Monday, March 11, 2019 12:53PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 18, 2019 9:10AM EDT
Since at least August, Chinese authorities have been working to contain an outbreak of African swine fever.
So far, the country has reported more than 100 separate outbreaks spanning most of its provinces, leading to the culling of nearly one million pigs.
The ongoing outbreak, experts say, has been exacerbated by China’s numerous backyard farmers, who are not subject to the same governmental biosecurity standards as larger pork producers. Amid the outbreak, it is estimated that China’s giant pork industry could see production cuts of up to 20 per cent this year.
African swine fever, or ASF, is highly contagious and has a nearly 100 per cent mortality rate for domestic and wild pigs. It does not, however, affect humans.
While the untreatable African swine fever virus has never been found in Canada, it has showed up in several European countries.
Sylvain Charlebois is a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University’s business school in Halifax, said there could be a risk of the virus eventually reaching Canada.
“Unfortunately, there are many experts suggesting that perhaps the African swine fever could actually reach North America within a year,” Charlebois explained. “You just need someone who has visited a farm in China (to) bring the virus over to North America by accident and just like we experienced in 2003 with mad cow (disease), overnight we could actually have several countries issue an embargo on Canada.“
Such a scenario would cause considerable damage to the industry.
“Seventy per cent of our pork production is exported,” Charlebois said. “So if we are to be exposed to these embargoes, it would be quite devastating to the Canadian pork industry.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says that “Canada does not import pigs (or their semen or embryos) or their pork by-products that originate from any country that is not officially recognized as free of African swine fever.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Canada had banned pork products from China amid the African swine fever outbreak. However, pigs and their pork byproducts have never been eligible for import from a country affected by African swine fever. In addition, Canada has not banned any products that are currently eligible for import.