Pet pig's death prompts African swine fever probe

Pet pig's death prompts African swine fever probe

Pig numbers down more than 30% but government continues to blame other causes

A vendor arranges various pork cuts at Pak Nam market in Samut Prakan province. Pork prices have soared recently. Some consumers say this has forced them to opt for cheaper options like chicken amid fears pork will remain expensive in the months to come. (Photo: Bangkok Post)
A vendor arranges various pork cuts at Pak Nam market in Samut Prakan province. Pork prices have soared recently. Some consumers say this has forced them to opt for cheaper options like chicken amid fears pork will remain expensive in the months to come. (Photo: Bangkok Post)

Agriculture officials are preparing to inspect pig farms nationwide in a bid to prevent the potential spread of African swine fever, which is suspected to be linked to a sharp drop in local pig supplies and soaring pork prices.

The move follows a report that a miniature pet pig in Bangkok was found to have died from the disease after its owner had a lab test done at Kasetsart University.

Speculation is rising that an African swine fever (ASF) outbreak is already decimating local pig herds, with pork prices surging because pig supplies are more than 30% lower this year than they were last year.

Thai authorities have repeatedly denied an African swine fever outbreak and previously attributed most farm pig deaths to another viral disease called porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

Sorawit Thanito, director-general of the Department of Livestock Development, said on Saturday that the disease had been confirmed in at least 35 countries, including Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, resulting in enormous economic losses to the livestock sector. 

African swine fever is harmless to humans but fatal to pigs, and there is no vaccine against the virus. The only way to limit its spread is to cull susceptible animals, said Mr Sorawit.

“We have seen an increasing tendency toward outbreaks in many places,” he said. “The disease has caused heavy economic losses to pig farmers even though the disease doesn’t transmit to people.

“So we will implement the ultimate measures to prevent the outbreak by destroying pigs in farms that are at a very high risk of an ASF outbreak.”

The department needs close cooperation from all pig farmers to prevent the outbreak, he said, adding that proper sanitation is important. He advised farmers to buy pigs from reliable sources, ensuring that they are safe from the virus.

Unusually high prices of pork prompted the Commerce Ministry this week to ban exports of live pigs in an attempt to maintain sufficient live pig populations in the country.

Farmers’ groups have said that the pig population has also been falling because many small-scale farmers have left the business due to high feed costs. The Agriculture Ministry is looking at ways to reduce feed costs, possibly through tax measures, in order to encourage farmers to stick with pig raising.

Previously, BioThai (Biodiversity-Sustainable Agriculture-Food Sovereignty Action Thailand) had called on the Commerce Ministry to press for tests to see if ASF was really behind rising pig deaths. It also blamed the government for not accepting the reality of ASF infections in the country, leading to heavy losses among farmers.

Last May, Vietnam suspended a shipment of live pigs from Thailand, saying it detected ASF in them. However, the Agriculture Ministry until now has been sticking to its own theory about what is causing the deaths.

African swine fever in recent years has swept through Europe and Asia and killed hundreds of millions of pigs, particularly in China. The presence of the disease in Thailand’s neighbouring countries has also fed speculation that it had spread to the country.

“African swine fever has been found in Thailand, because we found it,” said Nattavut Ratanavanichrojn, associate dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Kasetsart University in Nakhon Pathom.

The finding was confirmed in the autopsy on the pet pig from Bangkok, he told Reuters, adding that the university had sent the autopsy result to the Department of Livestock Development last month.

The owner of the animal in question had two other miniature pigs in the same household that also died later, he added.

Chaiwat Yothakol, deputy director-general of the Department of Livestock Development, told Reuters late on Friday that “the department will investigate whether the pig was really infected with the disease”.

“As of now we have not found the disease here,” he said.

The government has suspended exports of live pigs until April 5 to shore up domestic supplies. Authorities have estimated the country will have just 13 million pigs this year, a 32% decline from the 19 million it usually produces.

Farmgate pig prices were quoted at around 105 baht per kilogramme last week, 30% higher than prices from the same period a year ago, data from the Swine Raisers Association of Thailand showed.

Prices of pork in Bangkok were seen this week at around 182.50 baht per kg, nearly 29% higher than in January 2021, according to Commerce Ministry data.

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