Sunday, May 24, 2020

Measures to Address ASF Risk to China's Pigs

Chinese officials acknowledged that African swine fever (ASF) is still a risk for the country's pork industry as they launched crackdowns, testing, and record-keeping initiatives to control the virus last week. The new initiatives are the first acknowledgement of continuing disease risk by Chinese officials who have been urging the industry to undertake a crash program to restore normal pork supplies by next year.

On May 21, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) issued "Guidance on strengthening measures to control African Swine Fever" that laid out a dozen measures meant to establish the prevalence of the virus and to shore up lax reporting, testing, record-keeping, and regulation at the grass roots level. The measures implement a directive issued by the State Council last year to strengthen ASF prevention and control. A MARA veterinary official explained that the measures are necessary because it is not easy to control disease in China's huge, complex livestock industry composed of millions of medium and small farmers. Recent ASF reports drew attention to the chaotic long-distance trucking of pigs, and an audit of slaughterhouses six months ago discovered shoddy record-keeping, unsanitary conditions, and positive tests for ASF.

The MARA official acknowledged that African swine fever (ASF) has spread widely across the country and there is still a high risk of further outbreaks if the industry slacks off on prevention and control. The official acknowledged that the rapid expansion of the industry this year raises the risk of disease. He acknowledged that the discovery of infected pigs on unregistered trucks in March and April reflected "loopholes" and slack regulation in regions where the animals originated. The official noted that positive tests of wild pigs this year show that the disease has "colonized" China.
Hey pigs! Pee in the cup! 
The "guidance" measures are meant to "normalize" strict testing, disease reporting, record-keeping, and supervision of farms, trucks, and slaughterhouses. The measures are wide-ranging, including a systematic survey of farms to test for ASF, firming up grass roots animal disease reporting, clamping down on issuance of animal health certifications, inspections of slaughterhouses, imposing strict record-keeping for trucks and animals, and implementing a regionalization pilot that will restrict marketing of finished hogs to multi-province regions.

A key measure is a plan to systematically test farms for ASF in order to establish a baseline for the prevalence of the virus in 498 major hog-producing counties. Each province will test every swine farm producing 2000 head or more and a sample of farms producing 500-2000 head. Each county livestock bureau will appoint a person responsible for entering farms to do testing; farmers will be penalized if they don't comply. Farmers will receive financial awards for reporting ASF cases, but they are also reminded that it is their responsibility to do so.

Authorities plan to establish a grid system (inspired by coronavirus work) to organize animal disease reporting and epidemiological investigations. Each grid will contain a fixed set of villages and farms with a designated official in charge. Quarantine certificates are to be withheld if reporting is false or flouts procedures or if a batch of slaughtered hogs is not accompanied by a third-party testing report. The objective is to make farmers take reporting seriously.
Testing pig urine in an audit focused on detecting clenbuterol and
other growth-promoting substances last year in Hainan Province.

All slaughterhouses are expected to establish capability for ASF-testing. Agricultural officials will conduct a one-time check with follow-ups to ensure problems are corrected. Slaughterhouses will have a veterinary official responsible for daily reporting system of ASF test results and inspection and quarantine information. Slaughter facilities should be able to trace the source of infected pigs.

The slaughterhouse measures are meant to address sloppy testing, slack record-keeping discovered during an audit of 21 slaughterhouses conducted in November 2019. The audit also found positive ASF test results in 5 percent of samples. Only 12 of 21 facilities had laboratories. The audit noted that technicians at several plants were unable to explain what constituted a positive test for ASF, and one had no criteria for a positive test. Several plants had no testing records, could not identify where samples came from, did not retain or label samples, and/or had no records of purchases of equipment or reagants used for testing. Several slaughterhouses were criticized for poor sanitation, dumping blood directly into rivers, and incorrect addresses on production licenses, environmental approvals, and animal health certificates. At least one positive ASF test was reported for blood and pork samples taken from each of 5 slaughter facilities whose test results were listed. One facility in Shandong Province had positive results for 6 of 10 samples.
A slaughterhouse audit in Heilongjiang Province last year.
Transportation of pigs is a key target of remediation. Trucks transporting pigs must be in a record system and pigs must be accompanied by health certificates. A 100-day enforcement action was launched last week to crack down on unregistered trucks, set up systems to manage and verify inspection and quarantine documents issued by veterinary officials in the district where pigs were produced, and to strengthen regulation of traders and buyers.

Another measure is a "regionalization" pilot program initiated in 2019 that aims to establish a closed region for marketing pigs in six south-central provinces. The program will allow breeding stock and piglets to be transported into the region from other regions, but finished hogs will stay within the region. Transportation will be limited to "point-to-point" arrangements between production districts/farms and slaughter facilities in the region. Organizers intend to establish coordinated disease reporting and response and information-sharing within the region. The program will gradually be expanded to eastern and northern regions, and transportation of hogs is expected to be curtailed starting April 1 next year.

There was no mention of other ingredients in China's pig virus cocktail--PRRS ("blue ear disease"), foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever, porcine circovirus, PED.

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