The continued consumption of meat infected with African swine fever virus could cause a new pandemic
On August 18, a routine inspection by the Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor revealed the presence of the ASF genome in sausage products manufactured by a meat processing plant in Maloe Mikushkino village, Samara Oblast, Russia. No information about what consequences the company may face has been made public. When ASF first appeared in Russia a decade ago, similar cases attracted close public attention and even temporarily influenced consumer habits. Now, they remain out of the spotlight. ASF is a virus of the Asfarviridae family and highly deadly for pigs with a mortality rate estimated to be close to 96% but posing no danger to humans. No cure or vaccine is available yet. In Europe, a large-scale epidemic began with an outbreak that first occurred in 2007 in Georgia. The virus subsequently spread to neighboring Armenia and Russia, causing turmoil in several regions, incurring billions in losses for the country's pig industry, and prompting hundreds of backyard farms to shut down their operations for good. Russia is still struggling with ASF. During the past decade, the virus has been detected in every part of the country and has spread to Ukraine, Belarus, and the European Union. ASF made headlines in 2018 when on August 3, 2018, the first case was detected in Liaoning Province in northeastern China. In the following twelve months, 156 separate outbreaks were confirmed in 107 cities across all 31 provinces in mainland China and in Hong Kong. As a result, China, the world's largest pork consumer, lost nearly 30% of its pig population. The country culled nearly 1 million pigs in an effort to contain the disease, causing sharp pork price fluctuations on the global market.
Seeking benefitsIn all countries struggling with ASF, it is strictly prohibited to use meat from infected animals in any way. However, this rule is often violated. This year, government officials in Russia even threatened to take unprecedented measures to punish unscrupulous companies. "Russia may introduce turnover-based fines for unscrupulous meat processors accepting pork with ASF," Russian vice-Prime Minister Alexey Gordeev announced in February of 2020, commenting on a well-publicized scandal surrounding the operation of the Itera meat-processing plant in Kaluga Oblast where sausages containing the ASF genome ended up in supermarkets in 39 Russian regions, or nearly half of the country's territory. "It could be seen with the naked eye that the company had been using some dodgy raw materials supply schemes. We must employ a special regime with those kinds of companies, controlling them on a daily basis, and going public with similar egregious cases," Gordeev said. The outbreak is considered the biggest one of its kind, but it is not the only one. Several dozen similar product batches have been found on product shelves over the past few years. Many more products have gone unnoticed, especially those coming from backyard farms, which are not subjected to any veterinary controls in Russia at all. Backyard farms also often sell their products directly to their neighbors, friends, and other customers, thus avoiding sanitary controls. Gordeev also said that the government may consider adopting new regulations to make it possible to force those kinds of companies to stop
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