China to probe labs, farms in crackdown on illegal African swine fever vaccines

(Reuters) - China has begun a strict crackdown on the production and use of illegal African swine fever vaccines, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Tuesday, after anecdotal evidence of the widespread use of such products.

China is trying to rebuild its hog herd after African swine fever killed millions of pigs in the country in 2018 and 2019.

There is no cure or approved vaccine anywhere in the world, but China is close to approving the first African swine fever vaccine and last week said it was expanding clinical trials on a promising candidate.

Illegally-produced vaccines have circulated in the market for months, however, and could complicate the introduction of an officially-approved product.

In May, the state-backed Legal Daily reported that police in Chongqing had arrested seven people found to be producing a fake African swine fever vaccine.

Beijing has previously cautioned against the use of illegal and fake vaccines and warned of strict punishment, but the new crackdown, begun on Monday, appears much more comprehensive.

Provincial authorities will carry out inspections at veterinary laboratories, drug producers and pig farmers for any evidence they could have developed or used an illegal vaccine.

Authorities must investigate veterinary laboratories used for research or commercial purposes and check any unlabelled vaccines and disease materials or reagents along with the records of experiments.

It also wants closer supervision of clinical trials and pilot production of vaccines to ensure there is no illegal transfer of the pilot product.

Provincial authorities will also inspect veterinary product manufacturers and pig breeders, checking immunisation records on farms and running tests on pigs to search for different strains of the swine fever virus.

Any strains with gene deletions could indicate a vaccine had been used and would be immediately investigated, they said.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; editing by Barbara Lewis