African swine fever: China cover-ups led to fast spreading, says leading businessman

30 November 2019, 14:26 | Updated: 30 November 2019, 20:31

Cover-ups by the Chinese government led to African swine fever spreading faster, a leading businessman has told Sky News. 

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious disease which does not affect humans but is deadly to pigs.

Since the first case was reported in China in August 2018, more than 100 million pigs have been killed as a result of the epidemic, sending pork prices soaring, in China and around the world.

Sun Dawu is the chairman of Hebei Dawu Group, a conglomerate that includes several large pig farms.

"For local governments, they are too afraid to take responsibility. It's a very common phenomenon to hide cases of ASF," he told Sky News.

"In places where ASF happened, people panicked and tried to sell their pigs quickly... Then the sick pigs were sent to places which didn't have ASF yet.

"I'm very angry at the government."

In February, Mr Sun slaughtered 15,000 of his pigs to prevent the spread of the disease, even though government inspectors had declared the herd healthy.

He blew the whistle with a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. It was the first admission of ASF in Hebei province, he says, and the post went viral.

Pork is China's favourite meat and the crisis has led to a huge increase in prices - 101% year on year, according to official figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

That in turn has led to an increase in overall inflation - pork alone was responsible for two-thirds of October's rise of 3.8% - beyond the government's target of 3%

As a result, the Chinese Communist Party is monitoring the situation carefully, wary that rising food prices have triggered discontent and even revolutions in other parts of the world.

The government has released supplies from its strategic reserves of frozen pork. And China has also increased its imports of pork, importing 40% more than last year, including from countries it has otherwise poor relations with, such as Canada.

And because China eats so much pork, prices worldwide are rising. In Europe, the cost has increased by 35% since the start of 2019.