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China may face wider bans on pork as deadly pig virus spreads

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Wider bans on pork products from China may be recommended as part of emergency measures to stem the global spread of African swine fever.

[BANGKOK] Wider bans on pork products from China may be recommended as part of emergency measures to stem the global spread of African swine fever.

The Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations agency spearheading an international effort to control the deadly pig virus, plans to release recommendations for governments after a crisis meeting in Bangkok this week.

The Philippines last week ordered a temporary prohibition on pigs and pig-related products from China, Russia and four European countries to prevent African swine fever. More nations may follow, according to the FAO.

The contagious viral illness, which doesn't harm humans, can be 100 per cent fatal to pigs, causing them to die from hemorrhagic disease within days.

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Tens of thousands of hogs have been culled to control outbreaks in China, which accounts for more than half the planet's pigs. The FAO is hosting government and pork industry officials from across Asia-Pacific at a three-day meeting that concludes Friday.

"By this Friday, we will come up with a framework for the region with priority action plans for each country," said Wantanee Kalpravidh, regional manager of FAO's Emergency Center for Transboundary Animal Diseases, in an interview Wednesday.

China's most recent African swine fever outbreak occurred Sept. 1 in the township of Changqing in northeastern Heilongjiang province, about 100km from the border with Russia, where the disease has been spreading for more than a decade.

Nine other outbreaks have been reported across northeastern and eastern China, spanning some 2,500 kilometers, since Aug 1.

'STEEP HILL'

"We have a steep hill ahead of us," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's chief veterinary officer, in an interview. "We have only seen the beginning. We have not seen the end of it."

Researchers believe the virus may have been introduced to China through contaminated food that was fed to pigs, and, therefore, could spread to other countries the same way.

Although China is a major pork-producer, the majority of its production is consumed domestically. Many countries, including Australia, ban pork and pork-containing products from China because of the risk of introduction of another livestock scourge, foot-and-mouth disease.

Small quantities of pork-containing products may be shipped internationally and possibly illegally, in food carried across borders, representing a risk to other countries, FAO's Wantanee said.

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