Saturday, May 18, 2019 – 8:48 in the morning
African pig fever – a disease that kills almost all infected pigs – has spread throughout Asia from China and Mongolia to Vietnam and Cambodia.
Millions of pigs have been destroyed, creating global protein shortages and burdening farmers and food businesses with billions of dollars in costs.
"We are wary of the pig virus," said Anan Suwannarat, permanent secretary at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture, in an interview. "We tried everything to prevent it from spreading to Thailand."
Thailand has tightened inspections at airports and border checkpoints, cracked down on massacres and illegal traders, and imposed stricter requirements to report pig deaths.
Authorities have detected contaminated pork products at airports and borders, but have not found a case on the farm.
China, the largest producer and consumer of pork, has been trying to contain this outbreak since August. But without vaccines, the virus continues to spread.
The strain of African swine fever that spreads in Asia is undeniably evil, killing almost every pig infected by hemorrhagic diseases that are reminiscent of Ebola in humans.
However, it is not known to make people sick.
Vietnam, the largest pork producer in Southeast Asia, found its first case in February. Cambodia – sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand – reported its first infection less than two months later.
"Preventing outbreaks is our national agenda," said Cheerasak Pipatpongsopon, deputy director general of the Thai Animal Husbandry Department.
"Even if it goes into that country, we will quickly hold back the plague to minimize damage to the industry."
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates the outbreak will cost the Thai economy more than US $ 1 billion if more than 50 percent of pigs in the country are infected. That could reach almost US $ 2 billion if 80 percent were infected. The Thai government last month approved a budget of US $ 4.7 million to prepare the country for possible outbreaks.
"There is no safe country," said Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor in the Department of Communicable Diseases and Public Health at the City University of Hong Kong.
"There is a high risk of spreading the virus to Thailand, as is the case for every country in the region and beyond."
Thailand produces more than 2 million pigs every year, and exports around 40 percent to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
He does not import pork or live pork, according to Mr Cheerasak, and now visitors are not permitted to bring processed pork products to the country.
They have seized pork products at the airport and are bordered 550 times since August, detecting viruses 43 times, according to the Animal Husbandry Department.
The Swine Employers Association of Thailand said the government was trying hard to prevent the disease. The group's president, Surachai Sutthitham, said he was "confident that Thailand could avoid the virus".
The porous border increases the risk of disease entering the country. This virus can survive in raw meat for long periods of time, and pigs can be infected if contaminated food enters their feed. But it rarely eats in Thailand, Cheerasak said.
Outbreaks in the second largest economy in Southeast Asia can pose a risk for large food companies such as Betagro and Charoen Pokphand Foods, and threaten 180,000 small farmers.
This will also create a direct challenge for the government because it will be formed soon after the March elections.