Pigs infected with African swine fever are still ending up on dinner tables across China, which is the world's top pork producer.
The disturbing news was reported by Caixin Global in a report published on Friday, July 5.
The news site is the English-language arm of Beijing-based financial media outlet Caixin Media.
What is African swine fever?
African swine fever is a resilient virus that is transmitted through direct contact.
While it is fatal to pigs, it is not known to harm humans.
There is no cure or vaccine for the disease.
Report tells a different story
Since the disease was first reported in China in August 2018, 143 separate outbreaks have been recorded throughout the country, Yu Kangzhen, China's vice agriculture minister, said on July 4, as reported by Reuters.
About 1.16 million pigs had been culled since then, he said.
He also said the number of fresh outbreaks has stopped this year, and that pig production is gradually resuming.
But Caixin Global report reveals a vastly more serious situation than what official reports say.
What is happening?
Caixin Global alleged it has become commonplace to cover up swine fever outbreaks at the local level in China.
This is explained, in part, by the following reasons.
Local governments have ignored reports of suspected cases of outbreaks by pig breeders as they wanted to avoid paying the required compensation to the latter.
The report also alleged they could not afford to pay the subsidies.
In addition, some local governments feared reporting cases of outbreaks as Beijing had ordered officials to curb the spread of the disease.
Similarly, Reuters said farmers had told its reporters that many outbreaks were not being reported.
Previously, it had also reported that the number of pigs that had died from the swine fever or been slaughtered is twice the number that had been officially acknowledged.
Indiscriminately getting rid of pigs
Knowing that their reports would most likely fall on deaf ears, breeders then started to get rid of pigs that were suspected to be infected with the disease by disposing of them, sometimes even on roadsides, Caixin Global claimed.
Breeders also rushed to sell them off quickly, whether or not the pigs were displaying symptoms of the disease.
This is because dead pigs could no longer fetch a price.
As a result, pigs that might be infected with swine fever were sold to slaughterhouses at drastically low prices, and eventually, found their way to dinner tables across the country.
Qiu Huaji, a research director at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, told Caixin Global that while it took a decade for swine fever to spread through Russia, it only took six months for the disease to spread to the north and south of the Yangtze River -- indicating massive reach within a short span of time.
Blaming human carelessness for its rapid spread, Qiu said the situation would be "unthinkable in any European or American country".
Citing a Spanish expert on African swine fever, he also said the control of the spread of the disease is "a matter of money".
To officially acknowledge every case of swine fever would require local governments to fork out millions of yuan as compensation to the pig breeders, Caixin Global explained.
And rich, developed cities such as Guangzhou might not even be able to afford the exorbitant amount, let alone more rural areas, the report said.
You can read the entire report by Caixin Global here.
Rare admission of failure from Beijing
Recently, Beijing has admitted that there had been "weaknesses" in the handling of the epidemic.
In a statement released by the Chinese State Council on July 3 -- a day before the central government claimed outbreaks had slowed down -- the government said there had been many problems as the country tried to tackle the spread of the disease.
For instance, measures to quarantine the pigs were inadequate, conditions while transporting live pigs were not strict enough, and slaughterhouses were not sufficiently equipped to test for the disease.
Top image via Amber Kipp/Unsplash