African Swine Fever has led to a rash of inhuman culling practices in China


It has been nearly a year since the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) was first reported in August of 2018. During this epidemic, countries across South-East Asia have been forced to try anything they can to combat the destructive force of this disease. This highly contagious viral pig disease, which is not transferable to humans, was first discovered in China, but has now spread to 19 different countries. The disease can survive in processed meats for several months, or even years in the cases of frozen carcasses.

In an effort to stop the spread of this highly destructive, and yet incurable, virus, affected countries have been forced to cull pig herds in the tens and hundreds of thousands. In China one method of culling that has been recorded and shared on the internet is the practice of burying infected pigs alive. The accepted practice for dealing with this disease is to report it to authorities which then triggers either quarantine or culling of the affected herd. As of April, 2019 China has only reported 100 confirmed cases of ASF, however reports imply roughly one million pigs having been slaughtered in an effort to control contamination.

Witness testimonies and video evidence shared online show live pigs being thrown into deep ditches and pits filled with other, clearly living, pigs. It is thought that the reason for this monstrous practice is to limit the spilling of contaminated blood. The long term effects of mass burials of this sort are unknown however, and accounting for ASF’s notable ability to survive in dead tissue there is certainly a risk of the virus leaking into water sources and being communicated even further.

In a question posed to the European Commission (E-000449/2019) by Member of European Parliament (MEP) from the Netherlands, Annie Schreijer-Pierik of the European People’s Party (PPE), asked to know what the European Commission (EC) is doing about the cruel deaths these animals are being condemned to.

In light of the convincing evidence which as been shared on the internet, MEP Schreijer-Pierik asked if the EC is willing to condemn these cruel acts and “call on the Chinese authorities to stop these practices immediately”. MEP Schreijer-Pierik also called upon the EC to “swiftly raise these cruel acts and other animal welfare violations in China and incorporate appropriate preventive animal welfare provisions in bilateral trade agreements” as has already been called for by the European Parliament.

In her closing question, MEP Schreijer-Pierik asked for the EC to issue an assessment of the long-term effects of the “cruel practice of mass live burial of livestock that may be infected with ASF” especially as relates to the disease’s long survival period and the the “intensive trade relations, imports and frequent journeys between China and the Union”.

The question was responded to by European Commissioner Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness in the European Union. In his response, Mr. Katainen reported that the EC is already aware of the images of “the killing of pigs in China”. He goes on to then qualify his next acknowledgement by saying that “if [these images are] true, such actions are in complete disregard of the basic principles of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code on the killing of animals for disease control purposes”.

In terms of action taken thus far, Mr. Katainen shared that there has been a letter sent to the Chinese Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs “inviting the government to follow the OIE Code’s principles and to take the appropriate measures to avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals”, while also raising the issue of animal welfare in meetings and through the regular contact that the EC maintains with Chinese Authorities.

In terms of keeping European pigs safe from the disease, Mr. Katainen recalled that the import of live pigs or any pig meat products from China is simply not authorised and noted that personal goods of this nature being carried by travellers do present “a threat to animal health throughout the Union”. He asserted that all travellers must follow the specific legislations put in place to control the introduction of personal consignment products of animal origin into the EU. In order to accomplish this, Mr. Katainen said that “targeted awareness campaigns on African swing fever are obligatory (3) to the Member States to inform travellers on the risks of the transmission of the disease and on the control measures”.

While the EU is apparently willing to acknowledge that sentient beings, such as pigs, should not be exposed to such cruel treatment, and that this practice “if true” must be stopped under their obligations as a member of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), there is clearly a higher prioritisation of keeping infected pigs and pig products out of the European Union. This is more than just a matter of the inhumane treatment sentient creatures, if this practice continues unhindered in China it could pose a threat, not just to South-East Asia, or the European Union, but to the pork industry around the world.

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