African swine fever (ASF), which has rapidly spread across China since last August, has even entered North Korea. North Korea reported the outbreak of the swine fever to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Thursday, and cautioned residents against the disease through the state-run Rodong Sinmun on Friday.
ASF is a highly infectious disease for pigs and wild pigs, with its fatality rate of 100 percent. There is no vaccine or cure for the disease currently available, so affected animals must be culled. African swine fever cases were reported in regions of Africa and Europe in the 20th Century, but since it broke out in China last year, it has quickly spread to neighboring countries including Mongolia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The disease is known to be spread through the movement of infected animals or the imports of affected pork products.
South Korea has been wary about the possible spread of the disease from North Korea through wild pigs that may traverse the inter-Korean border. The government convened an emergency meeting Friday to discuss countermeasures, and designated 10 cities and counties near the border including Ganghwa, Ongjin, and Paju as special management zones. Checkpoints and disinfection facilities will be installed in these areas, and enhanced measures will be put in place to prevent wild pigs from entering the regions.
The government should also keep an eye on the smuggling of livestock products, which is another way that the animal disease spreads. The swine fever virus does not affect people, but is strong enough to survive for years in chilled meat and frozen meat, and for months even after heated and dried. As of now, Chinese livestock products are not being imported into the country at all since they fail to meet the domestic quarantine standards, but it is still possible that processed foods made of infected ingredients can be carried in by individuals. Last year, 15 ASF virus genes were found in the food brought by a South Korean traveler who visited China.
North Korea’s help is needed for Seoul to monitor the situation in the North and share the moving paths of wild pigs. The government should closely cooperate with North Korea and international organizations to prevent the disease from crossing the border. Experts predict that one third of all pigs in China (around 130 million) will have to be culled in the future. With China being the largest producer and consumer of pork in the world, this would have a huge impact on the world’s meat market and the price of products. The government should meticulously examine whether the outbreak of the fever would deal a blow to ordinary people, and devise countermeasures.