06 October 2014 - As the African swine fever (ASF) situation worsens in many parts of the world, China has become increasingly concerned about the potential introduction of the disease. On 4 July 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) project to increase the preparedness, and develop strategies for the prevention and control of ASF in China. FAO will partner with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, the China Animal Health and Epidemiology Center (CAHEC) and the China Animal Disease Prevention and Control Center (CADC).
ASF is one of the most severe and highly contagious viral infections of domestic pigs and wild boar. ASF was restricted to Africa, except for the Italian island of Sardinia, until 2007, when it was reported in Georgia, after being introduced via waste from a ship that had sailed from South-East Africa. It quickly spread across the Caucasus and the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine following trade routes, and eventually reaching the European Union in 2014. The main paths of introduction and further spread of ASF are through informal movements of contaminated pork products, transported for personal consumption or smuggled for trade purposes. In the absence of a vaccine to prevent the disease, the only options available are strict controls of animal and pork movements into the country (particularly informal ones), ensuring preparedness at all levels in the event of an incursion, improving biosecurity measures and raising public awareness.
With the increased circulation of ASF virus worldwide, there is growing global concern that ASF could spread into East Asia from ASF-endemic areas. With China relying heavily on the pork production industry and owning almost half the world’s domestic pig population, an incursion of ASF would have a catastrophic impact on trade and pig production, with serious implications for global food security.
The risk of the disease being introduced from Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe is increasing. The Chinese government has banned the legal import of pigs or pig products from ASF-infected countries, however a large number of informal movements of potentially contaminated pork and other pig products occur through smuggling, inadequate disposal of ship/airline waste, and in travellers’ luggage. The ASF virus survives long periods of time in meat and can eventually end up as swill feed for domestic pigs or garbage to which scavenging pigs or wild boar have access.
Human movement between China and ASF-infected countries has increased hugely for two reasons connected to globalization: i) China provides massive labour forces to African development interventions, where the disease is endemic; and ii) it now has the highest number of tourists travelling overseas and returning to China, therefore increasing the risk of importing contaminated meat.
In the event of an incursion of ASF in China, the control of the disease would be further complicated by two facts: i) the largest percentage of national pork output comes from small backyard production systems with low biosecurity measures; ii) the well-developed highway system allows for rapid movement of pigs from one province to another. A further knock-on effect of the disease spreading into neighboring countries in Asia would pose a severe economic challenge to the world.
This is the first FAO project to deal specifically with the threat of an ASF incursion. The main aims are to improve the overall national level of preparedness for ASF through capacity-building activities on risk assessment, diagnostic capacity and epidemiology and awareness campaigns for farmers and veterinarians. The project will focus on organizing in-country training activities for laboratory diagnosis, carrying out active surveillance in risk areas and outbreak investigation at national and provincial levels.
An important aspect of the project will be dedicated to strengthening the national ASF laboratory coordination mechanism and networking. By providing opportunities for the exchange of technical expertise and ways of improving communication across borders, experts will have an increased capacity to develop an effective ASF emergency preparedness plan.
Source: EMPRES-Animal Health 360 No. 44-2014 (in preparation)