China's swine are under threat from an outbreak of the highly pathogenic blue ear virus. According to official figures, around a million pigs perished from the disease, a fact made public for the first time, today, in Beijing.
In January, China identified the contagious pig disease outbreak, till then known as the 'high- fever disease', as blue ear disease, or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). The outbreak had begun last May.
Says Jia Youling, head of the veterinary department of the ministry of agriculture:"The 'high-fever disease' was caused mainly by the blue-ear disease virus, but other viruses cannot be ruled out."
According to Jia, the death rate from the 'high-fever disease' accounted for 0.2 percent of the pig population.
The Blue Ear virus was discovered in the United States in 1987 and has since spread worldwide, posing no threat to humans. But it has mutated in China, making it hard to identify and becoming more deadly to pigs, says Jia.
"This variation of Blue Ear disease is a completely new variation," informs Jia. "It is the first time our country and the world has experienced this kind of the disease."
Within three months of the disease being identified, a vaccine was developed; and the ministry authorized 12 factories to produce the vaccine.
Government figures from the Ministry of Agriculture put at 18,597, the number of pigs killed by the disease in the first five months of 2007, with outbreaks found in 22 provinces, or about two-thirds of the country's provinces and regions.
The disease is also believed to be behind the disruption of the pig industry and soaring pork prices, which are threatening to push inflation above government targets.
Premier Wen Jiabao who visited a pig farm last month, pledged to ensure meat supplies for the poor.
China's central government has agreed to pay 285 million yuan ($37.13 million) for free vaccines for smaller breeding farms, where the disease was widespread.
Low pork prices last year coupled with high feed prices, making farmers unwilling to raise sows, is also believed to have contributed to the rising prices.
As of now, the ministry has ordered pig breeders to establish a nationwide immunization system; and has implemented a complete ban on the sale, transport and processing of pigs that die from diseases.
More than half of the world's pigs are raised in China and last year, residents consumed 50 million tons of pork.
According to Jia, the disease is not transmitted, or harmful, to humans but "it spreads very quickly among pigs".