Barely a month after the first announced outbreak of ASF in China, the FAO convened a 3-day international conference in Bangkok to consider the threat, and what might be done about it.
Attempts to corral ASF in Eastern Europe and in Russia over the past decade have failed, and now countries in Western Europe fear its arrival as well (see DEFRA Raises Risk Of Importing ASF To UK To `Medium').Yesterday, in China MOA Reports 4 New Outbreaks Of African Swine Fever, we saw yet another indication of how quickly the virus is establishing a foothold in China, with the number of reported outbreaks since August 1st having doubled in the past week.
A little over a week ago, in African swine fever (ASF) threatens to spread from China to other Asian countries, we saw the FAO describe how easily ASF can cross borders, and even oceans.
Today, the FAO is back with a stark post-conference warning that ASF is likely already well established in China, and that its spread to other countries is a matter of `when', not `if'.
Asian countries warned that deadly African Swine Fever is ‘here to stay’ – utmost diligence required to avoid major damage to food security and livelihoods
07/09/2018 Bangkok, Thailand
The outbreak of African Swine Fever in China, first detected last month by authorities there, is accelerating and will almost certainly emerge in other countries in Asia, a regional emergency meeting convened by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) heard today.
African Swine Fever (ASF) was first detected in Asia last year, in an area of Siberia in the Russian Federation. But its arrival in China is a major threat to the swine industry and to the livelihoods of small scale farmers and others along the value chain. China produces half of the world’s pigs – with a current population of some 500-million swine. In just over a month, the virus has been detected in 18 farms or abattoirs in six provinces, in some cases more than one-thousand kilometers apart.
No vaccine, no cure – but not a direct health risk to humans
There is no vaccine and no cure for the disease. In its most virulent strain, it is 100 percent fatal to infected pigs. However, unlike swine flu, ASF poses no direct health threat to humans.
Responding to outbreaks of ASF is extremely challenging, experts at the emergency meeting have explained.
“The most likely explanation, and the reason for the vast distances the virus has traveled, is through processed or raw pork products and less likely through the movement of live animals,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “The virus is very robust and can survive for weeks or months when it is used in cured or salted pork or when it is used in animal feed or swill.”
The emergence of African Swine Fever in more Asian countries and beyond – not if but when
Because pork is produced and consumed by so many Asian countries, particularly in East and Southeast Asia, the introduction of the virus to other countries of the region is a near certainty, experts have said on the final day of the FAO-convened emergency meeting.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” Lubroth said. “The geographical spread, of which ASF has been repeated in such a short period of time, means that transboundary emergence of the virus, likely through movements of products containing infected pork, will almost certainly occur. So it’s no longer ‘if’ that will happen but when, and what we can do collaboratively to prevent and minimize the damage.”
Chinese authorities recognized for quick action
China and FAO have been working together, over a period of several years, in anticipation that ASF would one day arrive in the country and have developed protocols and detection plans. These have helped veterinary authorities and others to respond quickly and isolate areas where ASF detections have occurred. To date, nearly 40,000 infected animals have been culled in efforts to limit the spread.
“The Chinese authorities have taken this outbreak very seriously and have been very proactive in sharing information and their lessons learned with FAO and neighbouring countries about the spread of the virus and their actions so far,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, FAO’s Asia Regional Manager of its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD).
The emergency meeting, convened by FAO in Bangkok, has drawn veterinary authorities and many other stakeholders from 12 countries, including the private sector, ASF experts, and representatives of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The meeting concluded with the formation of a specialized regional network that has pledged to work together and respond aggressively and collaboratively when new outbreaks occur anywhere in the region.
“This cross-border, regional collaboration is vital in responding to this very real threat to Asia’s swine sector, because this isn’t something that Ministries or Departments of Agriculture can handle on their own,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “This virus is a threat to livelihoods, to economies, to an entire industry and its associated value chains. So everyone needs to pay attention to this and step up, in a coordinated way, to take on this challenge. FAO will continue to help with that.”
China is not only the biggest pork producer in the world (roughly 50%), it has also become the world's biggest pork consumer. With poultry viruses like H7N9 and H5Nx continually threatening their other major source of animal protein, China has leaned increasingly upon pork to feed their people.
Anything that significantly disrupts their food supply could have profound destabilizing effects. A scenario not lost on the Central Chinese government.Between climate change, floods, droughts, shifts in monsoonal patterns, massive air and water pollution - and the spread of agricultural diseases like FMD, Anthrax, PRRS, PED, Avian flu and ASF - China faces a myriad of food production challenges going forward.
Over the past year - with the help of a new H5+H7 vaccine - China has finally managed to get (at least temporary) control over avian flu, but how long that lasts is anyone's guess.
Containing ASF - without the aid of a vaccine - promises to be a much harder task. And the price of failure both in China, and across all of Southeast Asia, could have global ramifications.Stay tuned.