Saturday, April 13, 2019

African Swine Fever In China: Epizootic or An EpicZootic?

April 5th FAO Update

Buried lede alert : RaboResearch report estimates that between 150-200 million Chinese pigs have already been infected with ASF.


According to the FAO's last update, published a week ago, China has officially reported:

Since the China Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) confirmed its first African swine fever (ASF) outbreak in Liaoning Province on 3 August 2018, 118 ASF outbreaks detected in 28 Provinces/Autonomous Region / Municipalities. Around 1,000,000 pigs have been culled in an effort to halt further spread.

Over the past week China has reported a smattering of outbreaks (see here, here, and here), and has reported between 1000 and 1500 pigs culled.  
While all but one Province (Hainan) have now reported outbreaks, the number of outbreaks reported remains remarkably low, and the image being projected by China's Ministry of Agriculture is one of having the situation largely under control (see China MOA Denies ASF `Epidemic')
In February, state media Xinhua reported (translated, bolding mine):
Recently, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) General Monica Elliott in Beijing to accept the Xinhua News Agency reporters Cai Fang and Jiu Feizhou swine fever prevention and control issues.
She said that since the outbreak of African swine fever occurred in China in August last year, China has made great efforts in prevention and control, OIE is recognized Chinese working in epidemic disease information reporting and management, the current outbreak of African swine fever in China has emerged downward trend, have confidence in China is able to control the epidemic. But we should also see African swine fever is more difficult to control the disease, we must be patient and prepare long-term control.
Despite low reported outbreak numbers and official reassurances, other ASF news coming out of China has been considerably less sanguine.
While ASF doesn't pose a direct threat to human health, is is devastating to pork producers, and its continued spread in China and across Asia could compromise already fragile food security in many regions.
While I suspect no one - including China's MOA - truly has a handle on just how big their ASF problem really is, a recently released market research report from Dutch multi-national banking and financial services company Rabobank estimates that China's ASF problem is already 100 times worse than the official numbers would suggest. 
This RaboResearch report estimates that between 150-200 million Chinese pigs have already been infected with ASF - more than all the pigs in Europe - and that China's pig production will drop 30% in 2019.

You'll find the full report at:
Rising African Swine Fever Losses to Lift All Protein Boats

Animal Protein
Grains & Oilseeds
Agri Commodity Markets April 2019

While all of this might be good news for protein exporting nations unaffected by ASF, food shortages and rapidly increasing prices can often be destabilizing influences on already fragile economies.  
As we've discussed previously, food insecurity - whether due to disease, floods, droughts, or other causes - can bring on severe  societal challenges (see Iran: Bird Flu, Food Insecurity & Civil Unrest).
With ASF now reported in Vietnam and Cambodia - given porous borders, and the largely unregulated sale and transport of pigs in Southeast Asia - it seems likely that ASF will continue its spread in that part of the world.
And while North American remains free from the ASF virus, the more inroads it makes around the globe, the more opportunities it will have to jump into our backyard (see USDA's A qualitative assessment of the likelihood of ASF virus entry to the United States. March 2019).
According to the FAO's most recent report, food insecurity and world hunger continue to increase, making agricultural diseases such as ASF, avian flu, FMD, and others important detriments to human health as well.

The 2018 State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World



  • New evidence continues to point to a rise in world hunger in recent years after a prolonged decline. An estimated 821 million people – approximately one out of every nine people in the world – are undernourished.
  • Undernourishment and severe food insecurity appear to be increasing in almost all regions of Africa, as well as in South America, whereas the undernourishment situation is stable in most regions of Asia.
  • The signs of increasing hunger and food insecurity are a warning that there is considerable work to be done to make sure we “leave no one behind” on the road towards a world with zero hunger

While the full size and scope of China's ASF epizootic remains frustratingly undefined - and the long-term impacts are largely unknowable - the uncontrolled spread of ASF across Asia could have serious impacts that extend far beyond economic losses for pork producers and a switch to alternative proteins for consumers.

Stay tuned. 

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