South Korea on high alert after first African swine fever case found

By Joori Roh and Jane Chung

By Joori Roh and Jane Chung

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has raised its animal disease alert to the highest level after its first outbreak of deadly African swine fever at a pig farm in Paju, a town near the border with North Korea, its agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.

The case in South Korea was reported less than four months after the neighbouring North reported its first outbreak in late May.

Kim Hyeon-soo, South Korea's agriculture minister, told a news briefing on Tuesday that in addition to raising the alert level, nearly 4,000 hogs would be culled to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We will make all efforts to stop the spread of the African swine fever through swift disinfection measures," Kim said.

The ministry ordered a nationwide movement ban of hogs and related livestock for 48 hours to curb the spread of the virus, while looking into the source of the virus, he said.

African swine fever is highly contagious and fatal to swine herds. It occurs among pigs and wild boars, transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals. Currently there is no vaccine against the disease, but it does not affect humans.

The first outbreak of African swine fever in East Asia was reported in China in early August. Since then, the deadly virus has spread across China including Vietnam and the Philippines.

Although this is the first time African swine fever has hit South Korea, an incidence of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed in March at a hog farm, the country's first discovery since February 2017.

South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, does not import any pork products or live pigs from China due to its foot-and-mouth disease outbreak history. It mainly imports from the United States and Germany, and pork imports account for about a third of the country's total pork supplies.

South Korea has a pig population of 11.3 million, according to Statistics Korea.

In 2018, South Korea imported over 570,000 tonnes of pork, according to customs data.

(Reporting by Joori Roh and Jane Chung; additional reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Darren Schuettler and Leslie Adler)