The current outbreak of ASF in India is the first time that the disease has been reported in the country. In September 2019, the outbreak of the disease swept through pig populations in China — which is the largest exporter and consumer of pork — leading to large-scale cullings.
The porcine industry in Assam suffered major losses during the COVID-19 lockdown, which was followed by an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) that has killed more than 17,000 pigs in Assam and over 4,500 in Arunachal Pradesh.
Assam has also opposed the Centre’s recent decision to transport pigs from Punjab and Haryana to the Northeast, maintaining that the free movement of pigs from outside the state will undermine the steps taken to control the spread of the disease so far.
What is African Swine Fever?
African Swine Fever (ASF) does not affect humans but can be catastrophic for pigs. The current outbreak of ASF in India is the first time that the disease has been reported in the country. In September 2019, the outbreak of the disease swept through pig populations in China — which is the largest exporter and consumer of pork — leading to large-scale cullings. As a result, the prices of pork shot up by over 50 per cent in the country over pre-outbreak levels.
ASF is a severe viral disease that affects wild and domestic pigs typically resulting in an acute haemorrhagic fever. The disease has a case fatality rate (CFR) of almost 100 per cent. Its routes of transmission include direct contact with an infected or wild pig (alive or dead), indirect contact through ingestion of contaminated material such as food waste, feed or garbage, or through biological vectors such as ticks.
The disease is characterised by sudden deaths in pigs. Other manifestations of the disease include high fever, depression, anorexia, loss of appetite, haemorrhages in the skin, vomiting and diarrhoea among others. It is important that determination of ASF is made through laboratory testing and it is differentiated from Classical Swine Fever (CSF), whose signs may be similar to ASF, but is caused by a different virus for which a vaccine exists.
How did the current outbreak start?
As per the latest update issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the current outbreak of ASF has affected China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea and Indonesia among others. In China, the first ASF outbreak was confirmed in August 2018 and since then more than 1 million pigs have been culled in the country. In Vietnam, the ASF outbreak was confirmed in February 2019 and since then over 6 million pigs have been culled.
Officials believe ASF came into India through Tibet into Arunachal Pradesh and then into Assam, the state with the highest population of pigs in the country. Even so, the route of infection remains unconfirmed.
Late last month, the Assam government decided to ban the slaughter and sale of pork awaiting test results of samples that were sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal. It was later confirmed that the samples were positive for ASF.
What has been the impact of the outbreak?
In China (home to half of the world’s pig population), the outbreak of the disease led to cullings on a massive scale leading to an increase in the price of pork, the country’s favourite protein. The outbreak has not only affected pork consumers but small farmers as well, who do not have the resources to protect their pigs from the disease.
The Indian Express reported in May that for pig farmers in Assam, the disease has come as a “double whammy”, where their sales were already affected by the lockdown only to become worse with ASF since it ruined any prospects of establishing the northeastern states as a hub for the export of pork.