Quarter of global pig population could be wiped out by African swine fever

This picture taken on September 3, 2019 shows a pig in a private farm in the village of Bezmer, southeastern Bulgaria. - When Vanya Dimitrova received the Bulgarian veterinary services' notice to kill her pigs because of African swine fever, she was shocked. No outbreaks of the disease -- which is menacing countries around the world, including China and swaths of Europe -- have been recorded in her area. While authorities say backyard farming is allowing the epidemic to spread, villagers are angry about orders to kill their pigs around outbreak sites and in Bulgaria, even around uninfected industrial farms. In Bulgaria, as well as in neighbouring Romania, hundreds of thousands of pigs have been culled in recent months, wiping out almost 10 percent of the poor EU members' industries. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP)        (Photo credit should read NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pigs diagnosed with African swine fever in Bulgaria. (Getty)

Around a quarter of the world’s pig population is expected to die from African Swine Fever, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has warned.

The disease is expected to spread worldwide, having already devastated herds of pigs in Asia.

No country is immune from being hit by the deadly animal virus, the head of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Wednesday.

"We are really facing a threat that is global," OIE Director General Monique Eloit said.

TOPSHOT - An aerial photo shows workers wearing protective suits and driving pigs to kill at a farm where pigs were confirmed to have been infected with African swine fever in Paju, a city near the inter-Korean border, on September 17, 2019. - South Korea on September 17 reported its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from China to North Korea, pushing up pork prices worldwide. (Photo by Yelim LEE / AFP) (Photo by YELIM LEE/AFP via Getty Images)
Pigs under quarantine in South Korea. (Getty)

"The risk exists for all countries, whether they are geographically close or geographically distant because there is a multitude of potential sources of contamination."

The disease originated in Africa before spreading to Europe and Asia and has so far been found in 50 countries, killing hundreds of million pigs, while reshaping global meat and feed markets.

Chinese authorities have destroyed about 1.2 million pigs in an effort to contain the disease since August 2018.

"We are really facing a threat that is global," OIE Director General Monique Eloit told Reuters in an interview.

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"The risk exists for all countries, whether they are geographically close or geographically distant because there is a multitude of potential sources of contamination."

Although the disease is not harmful to humans, it can be carried by tourists bringing back ham or sausage meat from infected areas.

The disease has spread rapidly to several countries in Southeast Asia including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea and the Philippines and more countries are likely to be hit in the coming months.

"In the short term we are not going towards an improvement. We will continue to have more outbreaks in the infected countries.

“Neighbouring countries are at high risk and for some the question is when they will be infected," Eloit said, stressing that controls were difficult to implement.

The spread of African swine fever has not only ravaged the Asian pig population, but also sent international pork prices rocketing and hit animal feed markets such as corn and soybeans.

It has also weighed on results of agricultural commodity groups due to weaker feed demand for hog breeding.

China's hog herd was more than 40% smaller in September than a year earlier, its farm ministry said earlier this month. But several in the industry believe the losses are much greater.

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