United Nations emergency talks to head off swine fever spread in Asia

A farm worker walks along a row of caged pigs in China

A farm worker walks along a row of caged pigs in China

He said the ministry had taken proactive measures, among them an immediate import ban on all live pigs and frozen pork from six countries for the time being.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations agency spearheading an global effort to control the deadly virus, plans to release recommendations for governments after a crisis meeting in Bangkok this week.

The agriculture ministry said it had identified the disease on three small farms in Jiamusi City in Heilongjiang Province in China's northeast, and the cities of Wuhu and Xuancheng in the eastern province of Anhui.

According to the FAO, ASF is one of the most devastating diseases affecting pigs, though it poses no direct threat to human health.

"With the way the disease spreads, we are particularly concerned about the risk of African swine fever arriving in this country through infected meat from numerous regions which now export pig meat products to New Zealand".

This marks the ninth case of ASF that has been reported in China since August 1, when the virus was first detected in the country. Many cases are more than a thousand kilometers apart.

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Wantanee Kalpravidh, regional manager of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Asia, said: "It's critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that (swine fever) could jump the border into other countries".

The situation should serve as an opportunity to warn travelers not to bring pig meat products from outside the European Union into any EU member-state, they said. The disease has since spread south prompting a cull of 38,000 pigs.

Researchers believe that 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.

With pork such a popular meat in many Asian countries, the FAO said the spread of the virus to China's neighbours is a near certainty, and likely through movements of products containing infected pork.

Although China is a major pork producer, the majority of its production is consumed domestically.

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