Vietnam steps up measures to prevent African swine fever

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese authorities on Wednesday conducted drills to prevent the spread of African swine fever should there be an outbreak of the disease in the country, as the risks of transmission from neighboring China increase.

The highly contagious fever has killed around a million pigs worldwide and recently spread rapidly across China, which has reported 80 cases since early August.

In footage shown on state-run Vietnam Television (VTV), officials covered from head to toe in protective clothing were seen taking samples from dead pigs and spraying corpses before burying them in a large pit in the ground.

“The fever is only 150 kilometers away from our border, so it’s necessary to understand the risk and danger...if it reaches our 27 millions pigs,” said Tong Xuan Chinh, vice head of the agriculture ministry’s livestock department.

Vietnam has more than 27 millions pigs, most of which are consumed domestically, with pork accounting for three quarters of total meat consumption in the Southeast Asian nation of 95 million people, Chinh said.

“If this fever infects our pigs, it will be a major hit to the economy, society, environment and food security,” Chinh said. He added that authorities were tightly controlling the transportation of pigs and pork products from China and had banned pork products from other infected countries such as Poland and Hungary.

Last month, China reported outbreaks of African swine fever in several provinces, including Yunnan, a border province with Vietnam.

There is also a danger of the disease spreading into Vietnam through smuggled pigs of unknown origin. Smuggling is a regular occurrence, especially in the northern border provinces with China, the agriculture ministry said last week.

Authorities in Vietnam have destroyed 324 pigs and nearly 17 tonnes of pork products that have been smuggled or which do not have clear origins in 63 cases since August, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Kirsten Donovan