ASF: Pandemic affecting domestic pigs


A pandemic has already been spreading around the world even before the Covid-19 contagion. This is the African Swine Fever (ASF) pandemic, a disease that infects and kills domestic pigs. It is not zoonotic but it devastates the livelihood of small peasants. There is neither cure nor vaccine for ASF, thus leaving swine slaughter the only effective disease control option. The virus has a 100% case fatality rate.

Like Covid-19, the current ASF pandemic broke out in China in 2018. During the first nine months of 2019, 100 million pigs died or had to be slaughtered. The virus continues to spread in the country until today. China is the world’s biggest pork importer, producer and consumer.

ASF first emerged in Kenya in 1921. It remained endemic in Africa until 1957. The virus is believed to be transmitted by soft ticks in wild boars. In 2007, the virus spread in Europe and subsequently in Asia.

ASF initially spread from big piggeries, poultry farms and ranches in capitalist countries, where antimicrobials are widely and indiscriminately used. An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and microbes. Examples of antimicrobials are antibiotics and chemicals such as chlorine. Antimicrobials are often injected to farm animals from birth as growth promoter. It is also mixed in animal feed and water.

Regular and prolonged use of antimicrobials in healthy animals generate antibiotic-resistant bacteria and generally weakens their resistance to diseases. These animals become more vulnerable to new and more virulent types of diseases.

Consequently, this results in incurable infections which rapidly spread to other animal farms, and if zoonotic, eventually infect humans.

Antimicrobials have been used in piggeries and poultry farms since the 1940s. However, its use became widespread and indiscriminate after piggeries and poulty farms grew into factory farms to meet the international demand for meat.

Antimicrobial abuse is currently widespread in US and China. In 2012, China used approximately 34 million kilos of antimicrobials. In the US, 13.6 million kilos of antimicrobials were used in animal farms. Majority of antimicrobials used are antibiotics like chlor­tet­racycli­ne and pe­nici­lin, drugs which humans also use.

Worse, these antibiotics are passed on to humans through soil, water and air contamination. According to experts, animals excrete 75% of antibiotics through feces and urine. Antibiotic residues contaminate the soil, rivers, and eventually reach people’s water sources. Feces, both of pigs and poultry, are also used as “organic” fertilizer. Hence, antibiotic residues are also absorbed by vegetable products that humans eat.

ASF: Pandemic affecting domestic pigs