Written by Mike Ives and Katherine Li
A man in a white protective suit parked a dump truck at the edge of a dusty pit and unloaded a pile of pink carcasses. They tumbled to the ground just as a second truck arrived with another batch.
The scene at a Hong Kong landfill this week was part of a government effort to kill and dispose of 6,000 pigs from a slaughterhouse where one of them had been found to have African swine fever.
It was the latest turn in an outbreak that has decimated pig herds in the Chinese mainland and rapidly spread elsewhere in Asia in recent months, and which experts say shows no sign of stopping — particularly since containing the disease is a challenge in a region where many producers are small-scale farmers.
And because China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork, the mainland government’s move to cull more than 1 million pigs is now being felt across a sprawling global industry that includes truckers, pork dealers and soybean feed farmers.
“The ripples of it will be felt everywhere,” Dirk Pfeiffer, a veterinary epidemiologist at the City University of Hong Kong who studies the disease, said of the African swine fever outbreak.
The highly contagious virus, which affects pigs but not humans, has been found in hog farms around the world for years. But the current outbreak affects a region where pork is often the primary staple of local diets.
The outbreak was first reported in mainland China in August. Since then, the virus has spread to pig herds in every mainland Chinese province, as well as to Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.
Vietnam, one of the world’s largest pork producers, has culled nearly 90,000 pigs since February, according to figures published last week by the United Nations food agency.
More than 1 billion pork lovers in China and neighboring countries are facing tightening supplies. In April, a global meat price index rose by 3% compared with a month earlier, as demand for imported pork surged in Asia, particularly China, the U.N. food agency reported.
At the Chun Yuen Street wet market in Hong Kong on Tuesday, several meat vendors said that they had stopped selling pork in recent days — partly because of scarce supplies, but also because they feared selling it could expose them to liabilities.