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|African swine fever is upsetting the husbandry industry with a repeat of previous woes, photo Le Toan|
The epidemic (ASF) seemed to have been brought under control during the last quarter of 2019 and the first half of 2020, with most localities reporting no diagnosed cases of the virus infection and issuing calls to re-populate herds.
However, in recent months, it has returned with a vengeance to upset the performance of major husbandry companies. According to statistics from the companies themselves, CJ Group, Dabaco Group, and Mavin Group are suffering both in the number and proportion of animals infected.
South Korea’s CJ has had 4,400 of its 18,000 sows infected with ASF (24.4 per cent), along with 20,000 of its 112,000 fattening pigs (18 per cent).
Vietnam’s Dabaco and Australia’s Mavin are faring better in some areas and worse in others, said a source close to the issue. Dabaco, for instance, has a relatively lower 6,200 of 30,000 (20.67 per cent) sows infected, but suffers in comparison for fattening pigs at 35,000 of 190,000 (18.4 per cent). Mavin is reportedly doing proportionally worse, with 6,600 out of 15,000 sows (44 per cent) and 29,000 out of 105,000 fattening pigs (27.6 per cent) infected with ASF.
The source said these figures are estimated based on the animal feed consumption, the number of vaccines used, and market research by the companies.
Statistics published by the Department of Animal Health under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) in mid-December showed that in 2020, ASF was reported at 1,500 areas in 50 cities and provinces. The total number of pigs that had to be disposed was 86,000.
At present, approximately 307 districts and towns in 29 cities and provinces across the country have reported infections, including Quang Binh, Ninh Binh, Cao Bang, and Dak Lak.
In Ninh Binh, the disease was first diagnosed in March 2019 and was deemed to be under control by February 2020. However, in August the epidemic was again rampant across all eight districts of the province. Since then 14,000 pigs with a total weight of 1,000 tonnes had to be culled.
Meanwhile, the Department of Animal Health of Nghe An province reported that ASF is present in all 12 districts and towns, with 1,200 pigs culled so far. Nguyen Van Long, deputy director of the department, said that though the epidemic is once again under control there, the risk of a resurgence is very real.
Explaining how ASF could break out again, Long said that the rally in consumption in the last months of 2020 – and the ensuing boost in transportation of live pigs – helped the virus spread across provinces.
“Moreover, farms and companies were too quick in their efforts to re-populate their herds, compromising the sector’s safety, while the weather conditions [cold and rainy in the north, flooding in Central Vietnam, and heavy fluctuations in the south] provided a fertile ground for the multiplication of pathogens,” he said.
Other experts explained that the virus keeps spreading despite disinfection efforts due to intermediate organisms such as mice and bugs, and feeding people’s leftovers to animals.
However, according to Nguyen Van Tuan, the owner of a pig farm in Phu Tho province with a herd of 1,000 animals, the main reason is the improper disposal of sick pigs and live hogs imported from Thailand.
“The ASF situation in Thailand is so dire that I think pig imports should be suspended from the country. Too many pigs were imported from Thailand since June, which caused the resurgence of ASF in the second half of 2020,” Tuan said.
“Almost all of the pigs in the same sty are sold, and that is why the selling price of live hogs reduced sharply in past months while also spreading the infection,” the farmer explained.
The race to find a vaccine for ASF continues across the globe. In February last year, Vietnam requested the United States to transfer genetically altered samples of the ASF virus it has developed to facilitate vaccine production. US experts earlier said they had developed a vaccine from a genetically modified virus strain to produce complete attenuation of the virus in swine.
The Vietnam National University of Agriculture started researching a vaccine last March. Thus far, it has developed four vaccines, one of which has shown encouraging results in 13 of the 14 pigs tested.
“Initial vaccine tests on a small scale have provided optimistic results. According to reports from experts and businesses in charge of technology transference, Vietnam might have a vaccine for this disease by the third quarter of 2021, if conditions allow,” said MARD Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong.
Navetco National Veterinary JSC, also a research centre of the MARD, and Regional Animal Health Office No.6 (RAHO6) have also been researching a vaccine. Notably, the RAHO6 collected samples from infected pigs surviving the epidemic, believing certain types of pigs are more resistant to the virus. The samples are already sent to international animal health organisations for further research.
The Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences’ research teams has also created a new vaccine piloted at three pig farms in the northern provinces of Hung Yen, Ha Nam, and Thai Binh.
Of the total vaccinated animals, 16 out of 18 sows and all 15 pigs for meat were in healthy condition after two months, with some of the sows giving birth to healthy piglets.
CJ GROUP is a South Korean conglomerate headquartered in Seoul. Founded in Vietnam in 1998, CJ Vietnam is well-known for its popular brands like Tous les Jours, CGV Cinema, and SCJ TV Shopping. It also has 23 affiliates.
CJ Group suffered a huge setback due to the ASF crisis as the corporation has been forced to cancel all deals across its entire feed and farm operations in Southeast Asia, ruining negotiations a long time in the making.
In May 2019, Dutch group Nutreco was reportedly in advanced talks to buy CJ’s animal feed business. The deal was reported to be worth about $1.7 billion, covering over 30 feed mills in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The group was also negotiating to sell its entire catalogue of farms to New Hope Group, a Chinese conglomerate and second-largest feed producer globally.
However, negotiations have fallen apart due to the outbreak of ASF, which caused significant damage to almost all of CJ’s feed and farm companies, especially the two additional factories launched recently in Vietnam.
DABACO GROUP is multi-field group specialising mainly in animal feed, cattle, and poultry breeding, as well as food processing. It also builds industrial zones, urban facilities and infrastructure, and real estate. Dabaco is one of the 10 biggest animal feed enterprises in the country.
Although there are no specific statistics about the damage from ASF, its financial report from last year show deep impact. Accordingly, in the first three quarters of 2019, the company’s total after-tax profit declined by 80 per cent to VND47 billion ($2 million), only 13 per cent of the initial expectation for the year, mainly due to ASF. While prices increased in the third quarter, it could not fully offset the damage because decimated herds also reduced the demand for feed and breeding pigs.
However, its business recovered this year thanks to the soaring price of live and breeding pigs as well as brisk business in other sectors. Notably, within first three quarters of 2020, Dabaco acquired VND2.55 trillion ($110.87 million) in net revenues and VND387 billion ($16.83 million) in after-tax profit, increases of 41 per cent and an astounding almost 2,000 per cent against the previous year – numbers that bring into question the impact the resurgence of ASF had on Dabaco Group.
MAVIN GROUP is the third-largest pig breeder in terms of the scale of its herds and the extent of its outsourcing network. The group currently own dozens of feed mills with an annual designed production capacity of 1.2 million tonnes in Hung Yen, Nghe An, Binh Dinh, and Dong Thap provinces. The group provides an average of 500,000 pigs to the market each year.
However, in reality, pigs at farms operated by Mavin (not outsourcing farms) were widely infected by ASF. In addition, in October 2019, numerous farms in Thai Binh, Thai Nguyen, and Phu Tho provinces that were operating as outsourcing facilities for Mavin contracted the disease, causing damage to these households.
Although previously the company was ready to support restocking and had around 10,000 sows and up to 70,000 piglets available to farmers in the north, it refused outsourcing farms’ allegations that the infected pigs were from its herds, saying that the pigs died during transportation and that they could have contracted the disease at the households themselves – although ASF takes about a week to progress from contagion to mortality.