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Here’s Why China Has Had to Slaughter Tens of Thousands of Pigs

Prevention Exercise Against African Swine Fever Held In HeihePrevention Exercise Against African Swine Fever Held In Heihe
Medical staffs participate in a preventing exercise of African Swine Fever on September 28, 2014 in Heihe, Heilongjiang province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)VCG VCG via Getty Images

China’s agricultural ministry has announced the arrival of African Swine Fever (ASF), a livestock disease, in a fourth province. Officials first confirmed the virus in China, the world’s leading pig-breeding country, on August 1st, setting off a contingency plan that has so far culled over 20,000 pigs.

China’s pig industry, much of which is still centered on small farms, totals between 433 million and 600 million animals, the majority of which are sold into the domestic market. The pork industry has suffered this year from China’s growing trade war with the U.S.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has for years been warning of the risks of ASF spreading to China. Pigs can get the disease from eating human food waste, such as a contaminated sandwich. In many countries, feeding pigs swill is banned, but it is probably responsible for the virus’ arrival in western Asia in 2007.

Agricultural authorities have been tracking ASF’s progress across Asia, and on August 7th researchers confirmed that the strain they had been tracking was the one detected in China, according to the International Livestock Research Institute.

ASF does not harm humans, and many wild pigs and other animals can carry it without symptoms. In domesticated pigs, however, the disease causes high death rates. Veterinarians have no vaccine or treatment for the disease.

Some Chinese pig farmers are disinfecting their pens more often, switching to healthier foods, and trying to treat their pigs with prophylactic antivirals, reports the South China Morning Post. Others are sending their animals to slaughter early, driving a drop in prices.