Major Pork Firm Shuts China Slaughterhouse Over Swine Flu Fears
China has ordered pork producer WH Group Ltd to shut a major slaughterhouse as authorities race to stop the spread of African swine fever (ASF) after a second outbreak in the planet's biggest hog herd in two weeks.
The discovery of infected pigs in Zhengzhou city, in central Henan province, about 1,000 kilometres from the first case ever reported in China, pushed pig prices lower on Friday and stirred animal health experts' fears of fresh outbreaks - as well as food safety concerns among the public.
Though often fatal to pigs, with no vaccine available, ASF does not affect humans, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
ASF has been detected in Russia and Eastern Europe as well as Africa, though never before in East Asia, is one of the most devastating diseases to affect swine herds.
It occurs among commercial herds and wild boars, is transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals, and can also travel via contaminated food, animal feed, and international travellers.
WH Group said in a statement that Zhengzhou city authorities had ordered a temporary six-week closure of the slaughterhouse after some 30 hogs died of the highly contagious illness on Thursday. The plant is one of 15 controlled by China's largest pork processor Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development , a subsidiary of WH Group.
Zhengzhou city authorities have banned all movement of pigs and pork products in and out of the affected area for the same six weeks.
Shuanghui said in a separate statement on Friday it culled 1,362 pigs at the slaughterhouse after the infection was discovered.
The infected pigs had travelled by road from a live market in Jiamusi city in China's northeastern province of Heilongjiang, through areas of high pig density to central Henan. Another northeastern province, Liaoning, has culled thousands of pigs since a first case of ASF was reported two weeks ago.
The pigs' long journey, and the vast distance between the two cases, stoked concerns about the spread of disease across China's vast pig herd - and potentially into Japan, the Korean Peninsula and other parts of Asia.
The race in recent years to build vast pig farms in China's north-eastern cornbelt has also increased the number of pigs being transported across country from farm and market to slaughter and processing in the south.
WH Group said on Friday it did not expect the closure of the Zhengzhou slaughterhouse to have any adverse material impact on business, helping its shares rise 0.8% after slumping 10% on Thursday. Shuanghui shares were up 0.67% on Friday afternoon.
The Zhengzhou operation accounts for an "insignificant" portion of WH Group's operations, the company said, adding it does not expect any disruption to supply of pork and related products as a result of the temporary closure.