Two Concerning Meat-Related Diseases Booming in China

January 23, 2020

Do you remember SARS? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was so contagious, a SARS-afflicted man on an Air China flight in 2003 infected 20 passengers sitting at a distance away from him and two crew members. The simple act of flushing the toilet spread the deadly lung disease and health care workers had to wear HazMat suits to treat patients. Eight hundred people died including Pekka Aro, a senior official with the United Nations.

Where did the disease come from? This is what the Journal of Virology wrote.

“Exotic animals from a Guangdong marketplace are likely to have been the immediate origin of the SARS that infected humans in the winters of both 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. Marketplace Himalayan palm civets and raccoon dogs harbored viruses highly similar to SARS…the sporadic infections observed in 2003-2004 were associated with restaurants in which palm civet meat was prepared and consumed.”

China’s response to SARS was to drown, incinerate and electrocute 10,000 civets. The slaughter was depicted in heartbreaking photos.

Now, a SARS-like disease is back in China. “Because some of the patients worked at a seafood market where birds, snakes, and organs of rabbits and other game were also reportedly sold,” there is concern that the pathogen comes from animals like SARS reported Bloomberg this month.

And there’s another meat-based disease that could become a pandemic. African swine fever (ASF), caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV), has killed one-fourth of the world’s pigs, including half of all China’s factory farm pigs. In addition to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, and the Philippines, ASF has spread to Europe, dashing EU pig farmers’ hopes of exporting to China and other devastated regions.

Even though the disease does not kill people, it lives in the meat. “The agriculture ministry has even contacted the German army and nurses to alert them about the risks of crossing into Germany from Eastern Europe with bacon sandwiches,” reports POLITICO Pro Agriculture. Germany’s local governments are building fences along the Polish border to try to stop the disease in which wild boar may spread.

Like EU pig farmers, U.S. pig farmers have hoped to export to China. But their hopes are probably dimming as the likelihood of ASF spreading to the United States grows. “It’s not a question of whether ASF reaches American shores, but when,” writes Thomas Parsons, professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Scott Michael Moore, China Program Director at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Hill. “Should the virus enter the U.S., your future as a pork producer would radically change,” warns Pork Business.

The New York Times indicts China’s “small farms, often packed together in crowded agricultural areas,” for the ASF pandemic, but the U.S.’s factory farms have identical conditions.

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