(p. B1) WULONGQIAO, China — A devastating disease spreading from China has wiped out roughly one-quarter of the world’s pigs, reshaping farming and hitting the diets and pocketbooks of consumers around the globe.
China’s unsuccessful efforts to stop the disease may have hastened the spread — creating problems that could bedevil Beijing and global agriculture for years to come.
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The epidemic shows the limits of China’s emphasis on government-driven, top-down solutions to major problems, sometimes at the expense of the practical. It has also laid bare the struggle of a (p. B6) country of 1.4 billion people to feed itself.
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When the swine fever began to spread 16 months ago, the Ministry of Agriculture told the country’s local governments to cull all pigs in herds if there was even one sick animal, and to compensate the farmers. The ministry authorized local governments to pay up to $115 for the largest pigs, a cap later raised to $170. Before the epidemic, however, many pigs sold for $250 or more apiece, particularly breeding sows, according to government data. With the epidemic, the price has soared to $600 or more.
To get that partial reimbursement, many farmers had to deal with tightfisted local officials. The ministry said it would reimburse local governments only for between 40 percent and 80 percent of their costs. Local governments also had to provide proof, often including laboratory tests, that pigs died of African swine fever and not some other ailment.
As a result, culling has been slow. Official data show only 1.2 million pigs, or less than 0.3 percent of the country’s herds, have been culled. It is not clear where the rest of the country’s vanished herds went, but food experts say many were likely butchered and turned into food. That would worsen the spread, because the disease can lurk in meat for months.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2019, and has the title “China Responds Slowly, and a Pig Disease Becomes a Lethal Epidemic.”)