If you like to eat bacon, you might want to stock up now before any more pigs succumb to a devastating disease called African Swine Fever. This “Pig Ebola,” as some people describe the illness, is raging out of control in dozens of countries.
Some experts have reported that, over the past 18 months, fully one-quarter (25 percent or 1 in 4) of the world’s pig population has already met an untimely death with as many more expected.
Once infected, the mortality rate approaches 100 percent – meaning, there are virtually no survivors. In places where the disease is present, even healthy pigs are being killed off to prevent spreading the African Swine Fever (ASF).
Currently, Indonesia is struggling with the blight. The nation’s 270 million people rely on pork as a major source of protein. Almost 30,000 Indonesian pigs have been wiped out in the North Sumatra province, which has a pig population of 1.2 million, by African Swine Fever as of December 15.
Economic losses are already staggering as authorities attempt to control the disease through quarantines and keep it contained within the 16 affected areas. Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo told reporters that anyone who has been in contact with infected animals must go through bio-security screening:
“Very serious handling is being carried out, including isolating those areas.”
In East Timor, which shares an island with Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province at the far eastern end of the country, numerous outbreaks of ASF were reported in September with 405 backyard pigs dead from the disease.
To date, 11 Asian countries have reported outbreaks since August 2018, including Indonesia, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Timor-Leste.
In all, the fever has been reported in about 50 countries, including China, Belgium, and Slovakia. The illness has spread across South-East Asia, through parts of Europe, and has been found in parts of Africa.
Simon Quilty is an independent meat and livestock analyst. He painted a bleak picture of a world with many fewer Porky Pigs:
“We are seeing a disease that is moving from an endemic to a pandemic disease. It’s now almost throughout the whole of Asia and is uncontrollable.”
As of September 2019, South Korea was the latest country to confirm that ASF had been identified there. Officials imposed a 48-hour ban on livestock movement in the country and began culling 4,000 pigs.
According to Quilty, pork is a “significant part of the South Korean diet,” who eat, on average, 60 pounds per person each year.
China raises half the world’s hogs. The Communist Chinese government has reported a low number of pigs lost to the swine fever (38.7 percent) but Quilty believes that as many as 70 percent will be lost by the end of 2019, representing almost 20 percent of the world’s protein from meat.
Analysts at Rabobank, the Dutch multinational banking and financial services company and global leader in food and agriculture financing and sustainability-oriented banking, calculated that the Chinese hog herd plummeted by half in the first eight months of 2019 and is likely to drop to 55 percent by the end of the year.
Andrew Whitelaw with Mecardo expert market analysts said the swine fever presents an economic problem with sweeping international impact as China begins to import pig products from foreign suppliers:
“It’s a bigger story in my view than the trade war we are seeing between China and the U.S…Pork will move from basically anywhere in the world to China now; if it can be exported to China it will go to China.”
Whitelaw explained that this international pork shortage could create a domino-effect and raise the price of other meats:
“But then, it has a flow-on effect to all these other commodities like mutton, chicken … We’re seeing an increase in price for North Atlantic salmon, so we’re seeing it spread across [global] commodities.”
The only good news here is that ASF infects both wild and domestic pigs but is harmless to humans and does not constitute a food safety threat.
The American mainstream media has ignored this important story, perhaps because the African Swine Fever hasn’t yet reached U.S. soil. But it isn’t very far-fetched to imagine the price of pork products doubling in the near future unless the disease can be eradicated.
So far, there is little hope of that happening. No preventative vaccine exists for the incurable swine disease. Dirk Pfeiffer, a veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong and expert on African swine fever, put the matter into perspective:
“This is the biggest animal disease outbreak we’ve ever had on the planet. It makes the foot and mouth disease and BSE outbreaks pale in comparison to the damage that is being done. And we have no way to stop it from spreading.”