The ASF outbreak in Anhui Province is China's fifth confirmed this month. The disease was first discovered August 1 on a farm in the northeastern city of Shenyang. Since then the disease has been discovered in widely scattered locations: in a load of pigs arriving at a slaughterhouse in Zhengzhou, and at farms in Jiangsu Province's Lianyungang municipality, in Zhejiang Province's Wenzhou, and now in Anhui Province's Wuhu municipality.
|Occurrences of African Swine Fever confirmed in China, August 2018|
There has been no conclusive results about the source of the disease or how it has spread. Several theories have been floated:
- The virus could have been introduced in smuggled or imported meat. A New Tang Dynasty report speculates that a July shipment of pork from Russia "to fill the gap left by American pork" could have introduced the virus. Others have noted that three of the first outbreaks have been in coastal ports far from Russia.
- The "American conspiracy theory" apparently based on a purported link between the concentration of outbreaks of ASF near Chinese ports and timing of NATO Naval exercises held in the Baltic Sea during June, prior to the outbreaks.
- "Garbage-feeding theory." The virus can be spread through infected pork products or waste water in slop fed to pigs which is not uncommon on the outskirts of Chinese cities. There have been no reports confirming that farms affected by outbreaks fed slop to their pigs.
- The China outbreak followed the soccer World Cup held during June-July in Russia -- the focus of ASF outbreaks over the last decade.
- There has been an uptick in travel and trade between China and ASF-infected regions of Eastern Europe and Africa as part of China's One Belt One Road initiative. These include many projects in agricultural areas.
A Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences pork analyst noted that the load of pigs purportedly shipped from Heilongjiang to Zhengzhou could have contracted the virus from manure, urine, or blood in one of the six provinces they passed through. A veterinarian at the Academy said most local veterinary stations don't have the equipment to detect the virus, and it takes two days to send samples to a provincial or national lab for testing.
Chinese Agricultural officials have assured the population that African Swine Fever cannot spread to humans, but anecdotal reports indicate that consumers are avoiding pork. Northeastern consumers were said to be shunning pork after the first outbreak in Shenyang. Last week, a reporter found that consumers in Zhengzhou were switching to beef and lamb, and he/she found most of the pork counters abandoned in food markets near the Wenzhou outbreak.
The impacts on the market are uncertain. Reports show hog prices falling in some regions and rising in others. Farmers could accelerate slaughter of hogs to get ahead of the spread of the disease, depressing prices in the immediate term. Due to disease concerns, farmers are reportedly hesitant to stock up on pigs, but the peak consumption periods are on the horizon with the September mid-Autumn festival, October 1 National Day, and February Spring Festival coming up in the next four months. Supplies of imported pork are constrained by prohibitive retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. pork in July.