By Roger Gilbert

Bringing home the bacon may prove more expensive in future than we have been accustomed to - given the African Swine Fever virus is spreading.

The challenges being faced by the Chinese pig producing industry may well be under-estimated and the level of concern was clearly demonstrated when Famsun, jointly with Milling and Grain, hosted an impromptu one-day conference on March 27th, 2019 to being together international experts to review the modus operandi of the ASF virus and the most trusted control and prevention measures.

The one-day conference held in Beijing attracted 160 of China's largest pig producers from across the country. They wanted to learn more about bio-security and how to contain and/or avoid their farms from infection.

China, the world's largest pig producing country, is experiencing a rapid decline in pig numbers – it has lost over one million pigs in just over six months. There is speculation that pig meat prices could rise by three-quarters by the end of next year. China consumes almost 30 percent of the world's meat production.

This will have a major knock-on effect putting pressure on the international trade in pig meats as well and resulting in upward pressure on prices for all livestock products as the shortage of this very important protein source is felt in markets around the world.

The doomsday scenario is in the virus spreading to neighbouring countries in Asia and the risk to other countries if they do not implement preventive and bio-security measures.

What is or can be done? To answer that question ask yourself why would a feed equipment manufacturer and a magazine take it upon themselves to address an animal health issue? In answering this question might provide a way forward in controlling the spread and achieving containment of the disease.

Farmers often look to feed as the carrier of disease onto their farms. That might have some validity, given that feed trucks often visit several farms on a single run. Bio-security not only rests with the farmer but also implicates all people, vehicles and animals 'entering' a farm.

Consequently, farmers must take responsibility for their bio-security and request feed suppliers among others to comply. In China, feed manufacturers have now turned to their mill providers for support and advice. And, in turn, Famsun requested our help to identify and invite key experts on ASF control to a one-day conference to share knowledge and provide guidance.

Besides looking at the mode of virus spread, the likelihood of a vaccine rescuing the industry, government rules and regulations, a myriad of bio-security measures that farmers can apply and the role of the feed supplier, delegates have much of the information they need to face the challenges ahead.

However, what they do not have is a joined-up approach. One that can easily access updated stock identification and movements. Without transparent and fully maintained records, halting an outbreak early enough to control it cannot be achieved and many more farms become needlessly infected as a result.

This was clearly pointed out by our columnist Chris Jackson of the British Pig Association who has been involved in bringing under control several disease challenges within his industry - although he has never had a disease outbreak on his farm - including work on past Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks.

As a result, the UK has a robust cattle and pig identification system backed up digitally with immediate recording of all animal movements between farms.

There is much feed manufacturers can do to help farmers in their quest for greater bio-security. We at MAG would contend that this is a universal issue requiring a global industry response. The technology exists, the software programmes exist and there is willing support from feed manufacturers who support their pig farmer customers.

China's digital WeChat, that connects almost everyone with a mobile phone in China and takes care of so many payments that cash is being superseded, has the technology to record pig movements. It has a feed industry and a farmer base to support to continue bringing home the bacon.

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