18 December 2014 - FAO, China and the European Union (EU) are making progress on improving preparedness for African swine fever (ASF), a deadly disease affecting pigs. Through the EU-funded LinkTADs research consortium, 40 experts from the EU and Asia met in Beijing on 24 November for the “African swine fever Policy Event”, which afforded them the opportunity to explore how lessons learned in Europe fighting ASF could be applied to Asia, to identify the main policy gaps in East and Southeast Asia and ultimately to develop a set of recommendations and a follow-up strategy for ASF policy in the region.
The ASF situation has considerably worsened over the past years, with the disease continuing to spread in traditionally endemic sub-Saharan Africa. Now with a new front opening up along the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, ASF is expanding into historically free countries. The risk of ASF entering Asia is the highest ever, and China is of particular concern since the country houses almost half of the worldwide pig population. China is the biggest importer of pork and over the past few years has developed very strong links with ASF-infected countries in Africa. China also shares a border with the ASF-endemic Russian Federation. Since China, and Asia in general, have never encountered ASF, the region is ill-prepared for an eventual incursion of ASF in terms of policy and capacity. Therefore, an ASF epidemic in the region would have catastrophic effects on global pork supply and protein availability.
To address the policy gap and build ASF preparedness, LinkTADs brought together: i) Policy makers from China; ii) Veterinary Services from Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam; iii) ASF epidemiology and diagnosis experts from the EU, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and; iv) Representatives from the EU and the United States of America.
Policy challenges highlighted during the round table discussions included: i) the lack of ASF-specific contingency plans (and other animal health plans) in most countries; ii) the challenges presented by the large proportion of backyard pig production; iii) the lack of knowledge and health management related to wild boar populations; iv) the region’s porous borders that would hardly prevent ASF from spreading; and v) the diagnostic dilemma: how to detect ASF in a region with many similar-looking and endemic swine diseases (e.g. classical swine fever).
Participants endorsed 11 cross-cutting recommendations for immediate action to build preparedness and improve ASF policy making. These recommendations included increasing communication and awareness conducting risk assessments, ensuring training, assessing policies, addressing backyard, low-biosecurity and wild boar issues, linking with other swine disease efforts, collaborating with forestry authorities and hunters and mobilizing additional resources.