Pork industry cautious but not worried about African swine fever yet

While the disease has led to culling of 600,000 swine in China in the last five months, Indian breeders and sellers don't yet feel threatened by it

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 20 December 2018
African Swine Fever
Representational Photo. Credit: Getty Images Representational Photo. Credit: Getty Images

Indian pork breeders and sellers are not worried about African swine fever, the disease that has ravaged farmed swine populations in neighbouring China since August.

“As long as hygienity is maintained and standards are adhered to, there is no need to fear,” Tajinderpal Singh, managing director, Polar Genetics India Private Limited, Jalandhar told Down To Earth (DTE).

He, however, did shine a light on the differences in the pork industry in various parts of India. In Northern India, for instance, pig breeding has recently caught on. In the south, east and northeast though, people have traditionally reared pigs since time immemorial. This difference, says Singh, is key to predicting whether African swine fever will spread in India or not.

“The difference is mainly between the breeding and rearing of pigs. In North India, in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, people like us are breeding swine. Ninety per cent of our stock is a western, exotic breed like Yorkshire. We also sometimes cross them with Landrace. While breeding pigs, we strictly adhere to bio-security norms. Seventy per cent of us use swine vaccines,” he says.

“However, in the south and the northeast, the situation is different. Farmers in these regions raise pigs, mostly on garbage. There is the constant spectre of disease spreading among the swine in these areas. That is where precautions have to be taken,” adds Singh.

Shiva Farm Foods, headquartered in Sion, Mumbai, sells pork products along with other animal meats.  

“We do not have pig farms of our own. We usually outsource the animals from pig farmers in the country and bring them to our factory at Taloja in Panvel. The meat that we produce is laboratory-checked and certified. Usually, our stock finishes in just one or two days. I don’t think African swine fever, if and when it reaches India, would have much effect on our business,” Kishore, an employee of the firm told DTE.

As far as the spread of the disease from China to India is concerned, scientists say that the threat is not as grave at the moment; nevertheless, there was no room for complacency.

“This disease is not prevalent in India. However, since our neighbor has it, we cannot ignore the possibility of it coming to our country,” Swaraj Rajkhowa, Senior Scientist (Veterinary Medicine) and acting director of ICAR-National Research Centre on Pig, Guwahati said.

According to government figures, pork production in India in FY 2014-15 (April-March) was estimated at 464,000 metric tonnes (MT) and contributed approximately 8 per cent of the country’s animal protein sources. From FY 2009-10 to 2014-15, pork production increased at a slow pace with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.4 per cent due to population growth.

Notably, according to the Livestock Census, 2012, published by the Government of India, the country’s pig population declined by 7.5 per cent to 10.3 million from 2007 to 2012. The decline in population could be attributed to disease outbreaks. India’s east and northeast regions comprise around 63 per cent of the pig population. The highest pig population is in the states of Assam (1.63 million) followed by Uttar Pradesh (1.33 million), Jharkhand (0.96 million), Bihar (0.65 million) and West Bengal (0.65 million). Pork production is concentrated mainly in the states of Uttar Pradesh (30 per cent), followed by northeastern states (25 per cent), Bihar (15 per cent), West Bengal (6 per cent), Karnataka (4 per cent), Jharkhand (4 per cent), and Kerala (3 per cent).

Most of India’s pigs are of indigenous breeds (76 per cent) though the population of cross-bred and exotic pigs increased by 12.7 per cent from 2003 to 2012. Exotic breeds including Hampshire, Large White Yorkshire, Duroc, Landrace, and Tamworth have been imported to India, mainly in the north, in recent years to be bred and cross-bred.

The major challenges that affect the growth of the pork sector include lack of sufficient breeder farms, deficiency of feed and fodder resources, diseases, limited availability of vaccines, and insufficient slaughter and processing facilities across the country. Also, most pig farmers belong to the lower socio-economic strata and undertake pig farming as a livelihood rather than scientific pig farming with improved foundation stock, proper housing, feeding and management. This vindicates what Singh had stated.

Down To Earth contacted Krishi Bhawan for a response about what measures the Union government is taking to tackle the threat of African swine fever. However, the livestock commissioner was unavailable for comment.

African swine fever has spread across the globe in 2018. There have been over 360,000 global cases of the disease across 19 countries, including large breakouts in Russia, Romania and the Ivory Coast.

The most serious though is the situation in China, home to an estimated 680 million pigs and accounting for more than half of the world's pork production.

While the disease causing virus is not dangerous to humans, there is no cure and certain strains of the virus have a 100 per cent mortality rate in pigs, according to the US Centre for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH).

African swine fever can be transmitted through direct contact, poor sanitisation, insects, and even through processed meats, according to CFSPH.

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