BANGKOK (AFP) - An emergency meeting to head off an outbreak of African swine fever across Asia opened in Bangkok on Wednesday (Sept 5), after a mass pig cull in China sparked fears of a potential pandemic.
The three-day meeting led by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) brings together specialists in animal diseases as well as agricultural policy from nine countries neighbouring China.
China, the world's largest pork producer and consumer, reported its first case in August in northeastern Liaoning province. The disease has since spread south prompting a cull of 38,000 pigs.
African swine fever does not affect humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs and wild boars that is nearly always fatal.
There is no antidote or vaccine, and the only known preventive measure is a mass cull of infected livestock.
"It's critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that ASF could jump the border into other countries," the FAO's Wantanee Kalpravidh said in a statement.
"That's why this emergency meeting has been convened - to assess where we are now and to determine how we can work together in a co-ordinated, regional response."
Swine fever spreads by contact between infected pigs, ticks or other wild animals and can inflict massive economic damage on farms.
Participants at the Bangkok meeting come from Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
Hours after the meeting was convened, China’s agricultural ministry announced its latest case of African swine fever, with 12 more pigs dead in north-eastern Heilongjiang province, and another 39 infected.
The disease has spread through pig herds in several Chinese provinces, prompting authorities to take emergency steps like shutting live hog markets in affected areas and banning pig transport from affected provinces.
But fears persist that the rapidly spreading disease could dent production in the world’s largest hog market.