The government has banned the import of pigs in order to curb a regional outbreak that has killed thousands of swine across Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday.
The ban came the same day that provincial animal health officials gathered in Phnom Penh to discuss how to control the spread of blue ear disease, or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony on Koh Pich island in Phnom Penh, the premier said blue ear had struck primarily along the Vietnam border and that officials must be vigilant in preventing any pigs from crossing and spreading the disease.
“I call on the provincial authorities along the border, especially with Vietnam and Thailand, that imports of pigs have to temporarily stop. Help to contain,” the premier said. “I appeal, put it out as a strict order since there is a contagious disease,” he said.
In 2007, the government imposed a ban on pig imports from Thailand and Vietnam to strengthen the country’s pig-farming industry and protect against an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The ban was lifted seven months later, with government officials saying pork prices were too high.
Acknowledging the affect of a lower pork supply on the market, Mr Hun Sen asked market vendors not to raise their prices.
“When there are not enough pigs, don’t raise the prices,” he said.
Following yesterday morning’s meeting of provincial animal health officials, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said blue ear had struck pigs in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and that some foreign farmers, rather than culling sick pigs, simply exported them to Cambodia before they showed symptoms.
He said hundreds of pigs in Cambodia had already died from the disease and tests had confirmed blue ear antibodies among pigs in five provinces: Takeo, Kompong Cham, Kandal, Prey Veng and Kompong Chhnang. He said local authorities had lacked diligence, failing to prevent the infected pigs from crossing the Vietnam border in recent months.
“We have been impacted by this disease…because we lack proper controls on pig imports,” he said, adding that another disease, swine erysipelas, is also believed to killed some pigs here.
He said officials planned to educate farmers about ways to prevent the spread of the disease, such as reducing traffic between swine farms and the transport of pigs.
Vietnamese state-owned media reported Sunday that as of Thursday blue ear had infected more than 12,000 pigs in Vietnam, with 4,000 pigs already destroyed and another 8,000 under treatment.
Srun Pov, deputy president of the Cambodian Pig Raisers’ Association, welcomed the moratorium, estimating that thousands of pigs have died since July, when disease outbreaks started to intensify.
“Our local pig raisers have to try to raise pigs to meet the local demand,” he said.
Mong Reththy, president of the Mong Reththy Group, which owns two large pig farms in Preah Sihanouk province with a total of about 6,000 pigs, said the pig ban should have been put in place earlier.
“Now it is a bit difficult to handle the disease as it has spread out,” he said. He said his pigs had not been affected so far but that he was still concerned.
“Safety is what I think about most,” he said. “I don’t know how they will implement this ban.”
Curtis Hundley, chief of party of the USAID-funded MSME Project, applauded the ban, saying that with time it could help repair and strengthen the Cambodian pig industry as long as health officials take proper measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Mr Hundley estimated on Tuesday that the epidemic had killed more than 1,000 pigs in at least 12 provinces.
“It could recover in five months. Then the private sector can make money and compete,” said Mr Hundley. “The private sector has to be convinced that if they invest they will get their money back. The private sector won’t invest money if they think that the ban will only last two months.”
With 70 percent of rural families owning at least one pig, he said the ban could have widespread consequences.
Mr Hundley also said he did not think the government had acted too slowly in instituting the ban because the outbreak only became severe in recent weeks.
“I think it came on faster than anyone anticipated,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)