This week I attended the Leman China Swine Conference where 5,200 delegates were present - the conference was held in Zhengzhou, in Henan Province, with the main focus of the three day meeting being African Swine Fever, presentations were made reflecting the lessons learnt in the last 12 months and the advances that China has made in dealing with this disease.
This paper is the first part of three papers that I will write about that focuses on the findings of the conference.
I thought I would begin with Prossor Qiu's paper which opened the conference - he gave a very brutal assessment of African swine fevers impact on China in the last 12 months and what the structure and trends of China’s pork industry might look like once it recovers from ASF.
In brief, Professor Qiu stated that in the next 3-5 years China's pork supply will be insufficient by 30-40% and a pork production gap of 15-20 million tonnes per annum would exist.
Before the ASF outbreak China's pork production was 54 million tonnes per year and Professor Qiu noted that the total global pork exports of 8.5 million tonnes will be insufficient to meet China's needs for the next 3-5 years.
Professor Qiu outlined that there is no commercial vaccine for ASF and to date China's pork industry relies on detection and culling as its means of control.
In the last 12 months ASF has had a significant economic, political and social impact to China costing tens of billions of dollars with direct economic losses and ongoing problems such as landfill issues, water systems being polluted and feed and meat products being compromised.
Dr Qiu said that ASF is the ‘enemy and must be treated with contempt’, he said, 'you must avoid fear and despise the enemy and act rationally’ he used the analogy of ASF being like a ‘cold blooded killer in a wheelchair’ – implying it may look harmless but it is not.
In the last 12 months China has learnt that ASF is highly contagious but a slow transmitter when there is no intervention, the virus thrives in cold environments surviving for one year at 4 C, resistant to acid and alkali, likes organic matter like dirt and resists salty environments - it is a diificult virus to control but not impossible.
Professor Qiu sited four potential ways the disease entered China; firstly via illegal smuggling of infected pork and pork products, secondly, pork products carried by international tourists, thirdly, infected international food wastes, fourthly, transmission through wild boars and lastly he did not rule out bio-terrorism.
The main risk of ASF transmission is by people, in particular personnel who are infected returning to the pig farm and he sighted also vehicles going to pig sales. ASF contaminates drinking water, semen for breeding, contaminated needles, feed ingredients and other vectors and therefore requires very strict bio-security measures to control.
He said that timely reporting and compensation were key to the epidemic prevention - he asked what was the best value payed to farmers for compensation – he questioned 90% of the market price and asked how do you compensate in the current market conditions (with prices so high and moving higher).
Professor Qiu acknowledged the need to rebuild the prevention system within China, improve surveillance systems and put in place early warning systems.
Professor Qiu described the national economic impact as severe due to the large loss in pig production and described the China swine sector ‘as suffering a devastating blow’.
As stated in my opening remarks Professor Qiu said ‘it would be difficult to recover to previous production levels within 3-5 years’ with ASF causing a huge threat to local pig breeds.
He described the impact on China’s society as enormous with large reductions in related industries and businesses, local practitioners becoming unemployed and China’s poverty alleviation plan being severely ‘dented’.
He saw China’s standing internationally having being impacted with its image as a responsible country being compromised, in addition he said ASF had impacted international trade and with the China-US trade war occurring this added another layer of complexity to the problem.
Professor Qiu said that before ASF, China’s annual pork production was 54 million tonnes per year but due to ASF the supply of pork was going to be insufficient by 30-40%, reducing supply by 15-20 million tonnes per year – this supply gap would last for 3-5 years.
The availability of global pork exports was only 8.5 million tonnes per year with the main importing countries of China, Japan and Mexico making up more than 50% of global export demand. The main global pork exporters being the EU, US and Canada making up more than 80% of global pork exports. As stated previously, the current global export volumes will fall dramatically short of China's needs for 3-5 years.
Professor Qiu next part of his presentation was titled – ‘China has started the battle of pork supply’ and quoted Keqiang Li, the Premier of the State Council, who presided over a recent executive meeting on August 21st, 2019 at which he outlined 5 measures to stabilise China’s pork production and pork price.
In brief these five measures were:
i) Comprehensive policies to restore pig production
ii) Local government should immediately abolish regulations on prohibition and restrictions of pigs beyond laws and regulations.
iii) Develop large scale farming and support mid and small farmers in raising pigs.
iv) Strengthen animal epidemic prevention system and improve the of prevention and control.
v) Guarantee the supply of pork to China.
Professor Qiu also outlined what positives that could be had out of ASF for China. In brief these were;
Raising the entry barrier and promote transformation and upgrading of China’s pig industry
Change concepts of disease prevention, improve the level of biosecurity and enhance the ability of disease prevention.
Accelerate intensive hog production, modernize and improve the artificial intelligence of China’s pig industry.
Rebuild the prevention team, reshape epidemic surveillance systems within China and therefore rebuild the China pig industry.
Professor Qiu went on to outline how he believed ASF could be managed. He described ASF as both a natural disaster but also a man-made disaster with people spreading the disease throughout the world.
He went on to say, that it is a manageable disease that can be kept out by systematic control and refining the management of humans, pigs, traffic and logistic flows.
Much of the ability to prevent and control ASF depends on the ability and wisdom of farm managers – reflecting how good their judgement is, how good their cognitive skills are and their decision making abilities.
Professor Qiu said – ‘build a high wall, guarantee good production management and prevention methods and those that survive will be king.’
To achieve this he said farm managers need to be tactical and build a comprehensive strategy and prevention system focusing on the following key aspects; biosecurity, feed nutrition, environmental control, feeding management and disease prevention.
Bio-security he regarded as the most powerful weapon against ASF with the steps of cutting off the virus, blocking the virus, cleaning and diluting its presence which can collectively minimise the exposure of the virus to other susceptible animals.
The three core principles being 1) clean and dirty line, 2) one-way flow and 3) prevention of crossover, thereby reducing the viral load and increasing the threshold.
Professor Qiu described his hands-on experience in the field over the previous 12 months as valuable, nothing that a text book could teach you, he highlighted the following key factors in prevention;
Solid walls work.
Acidifiers are useful.
Controlling pig density is key.
People are the biggest variable of prevention success.
The importance of comfort and health of the pigs.
Importance of mucosal barrier and immunity.
Necessity of anti-stress and reduction of stressors like extremes in hot and cold or pollution for pigs.
Professor Qiu believes that there is no evidence that ASF has become less virulent – meaning that it is as lethal today as it was 12 months ago, when it first began.
The development of a vaccine has yet to occur and there have been many challenges within China to try to achieve this in the last 12 months.
In the race to try to find a vaccine China has engaged eight universities and a minimum of seven biological product companies.
Funding of the vaccine research is coming from four separate Government departments including; China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, China’s Academy of Science, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and China’s Academy of Agricultural Science.
The vaccine strategy is to try to find a gene deletion vaccine, a live vector vaccine and a sub-unit vaccine.
Progress so far has seen Harbin Veterinary Research Institute develop several candidate vaccines and an initial laboratory evaluation of these potential vaccines.
Professor Qiu gave a word of warning that any vaccine application needs to be carefully handled. He admitted that if successful a vaccine would result in a significantly lower elimination cost of ASF.
Laboratory trials need now to work in the field and risk assessment needs to be based on science such as clinical trials.
He admitted that there will be both political and policy factors that will influence the need for a vaccine, weighing up long term and short-term benefits and local versus overseas interests on finding a vaccine – in addition, there will be many games played by interest groups - if successful then - who’s vaccine will it be?
Professor Qiu believes that changes will occur in the future for China’s pig industry and in the future China's pork industry structure could be very different to today.
He suggested many potential changes might occur such as; sow operations only occurring in China’s south and feeding operations in the north, a potential greater reliance on overseas pig production and certain regions in China becoming self-sufficient.
Further structural changes might see multi-story pig barns, a greater use of AI (artificial insemination), unmanned pig farms (to avoid infections carried by humans) and much more remote controlling of production via the internet.
Professor Qiu said that changes in the business model would also occur. Pig production might move to a moderate scale, vertical integration may occur between crop and animal production thereby controlling inputs better, the development of co-operatives and lastly, vertical integration from the industrial processing sector.
He concluded that if there is no vaccine found then complete elimination and eradication of ASF in China is required. Should a vaccine be found like PRRS then production can occur alongside the ability to make pigs immune with the vaccine and the disease remaining but managed.
The candid outline that Professor Qiu gave in the opening address I believe set the mood for the following three days of discussions and saw very open discussions about how farm workers, managers and researchers could all work effectively together.
The detail of information in presentations, particularly on bio-security was incredible and the fact in so many sessions the question time almost went longer than the presentation, this showed to me how engaged the participants were.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the University of Minnesota and the respective universities in China that together with assistance of the Chinese Government and China's private sector showed the importance and effectiveness of how collectively when many different groups come together with a unified goal that they can achieve great things.
Any feedback is always appreciated