The Philippines has registered its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from Slovakia to China, pushing up pork prices worldwide.
The virus is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs that almost always ends in death. There is no antidote or vaccine and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock.
Over the last year African swine fever has spread rapidly in Asia. The first official outbreak was in China in August 2018, but it has since spread to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mongolia and North Korea.
The Philippine outbreak began with the identification of infected pigs in two towns near the Philippine capital, Manila, and authorities have culled more than 7,000 pigs within a one-kilometre radius, said the agriculture minister, William Dar.
He said the country was not facing an epidemic and urged Filipinos to continue eating pork, which is a critical market and accounts for 60 percent of meat consumption in the Philippines.
It is the world’s eighth biggest pork producer by volume and its swine industry is estimated at $4.2bn, according to the agriculture department.
Mr Dar said 14 of 20 samples sent to a UK laboratory tested positive for African swine fever, but it would take a week to confirm how virulent the strain is.
Authorities suspect the swine fever cases stemmed from backyard hog raisers who feed pigs swill, leftover food scraps from hotels and restaurants.
The ministry added the virus could also be traced to smuggled frozen meat and returning overseas Filipino workers who brought back infected meat products.