North Korean sources reported on May 24 that African Swine Fever (ASF) is spreading in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. The North Korean authorities have not officially confirmed the outbreak of ASF in the country, but sources in the satellite cities around Pyongyang and other surrounding areas continue to report ASF outbreaks, suggesting that the disease is spreading throughout the country.
“I head out to the local market every other day, but when I went last Friday, local officials were telling merchants not to sell pork under any circumstances, inside or outside the market. They also told the merchants not to sell pigs dead or alive,” a North Pyongan Province-based source said. “The authorities are worried about ASF, so they’re banning merchants from selling pork.”
“I’ve heard ASF is spreading in other places, but the disease has just started to spread in Sinuiju,” a separate source in North Pyongan Province reported. “I asked a local resident and he said that people from Pyongyang are going around to houses and farms that have pigs and ‘spraying’ some kind of medicine.”
Daily NK previously reported through numerous Pyongyang-based sources in late April that ASF had begun to spread in the Hyungjaesan Zone and Seungho districts from mid-February and that many pigs had died.
The sources also reported that the distribution and sale of pork had been prohibited from late February by the North Korean authorities, and sources report that the authorities are continuing to crack down on anyone raising pigs or selling pork in the markets.
ASF is a virus-based disease that occurs in pigs and wild boars and has a 100% fatality rate. No medicines or vaccines have been developed to date, so the disease can severely impact the agricultural industry and food security. The South Korean government is closely watching for ASF outbreaks given that any outbreak can lead to massive damage to the pork industry.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) under the UN reported early last August that ASF had spread into Mongolia, Vietnam and other countries close to the initial outbreak in China. The FAO reported that North Korea also faces a high risk of ASF outbreaks, but the country has not released any official information on the status of the outbreak.
Given that ASF first broke out in Liaoning Province, which is near the North Korean border, there is a possibility that the disease has entered the country. Some observers point out that North Korea has reported several times on the outbreak of ASF in nearby countries in what may be an indirect way of calling for vigilance among its people to guard against outbreaks.
The Rodong Sinmun, for example, published several articles on ASF in February, with titles including, “The Domestic Animal Infectious Disease That Threatens the Livestock Industry,” and “The Continued Spread of ASF.” These articles have mentioned the danger posed by the disease, and how ASF is affecting livestock in China, Mongolia and other countries.
On March 7, the Rodong Sinmun further reported that a special meeting on ASF was held in Beijing, China, and that China’s deputy premier had emphasized that all efforts to eliminate the disease must be taken. More recently, the newspaper published brief reports on April 4 that Vietnam had taken steps to eliminate the disease by destroying livestock and taking other preventative measures.
Cho Chong Hee, a researcher at Good Farmers and a former North Korean government veterinarian, told Daily NK, “Sinuiju is close to China’s Dandong so there’s a lot of manufactured foods and feed being imported into North Korea there. It’s highly possible that Chinese feed infected by the virus has already entered the country.”
Multiple North Korean sources told Daily NK that North Korean families raise many pigs at once to make extra money and that the majority eat leftover food, meaning the animals are are highly susceptible to ASF. The consumption of leftover food has been reported as a major vector for ASF outbreaks across the world.
Some agricultural and livestock experts believe that the South Korean government must take urgent steps to engage in conversations with North Korea to prevent the spread of ASF, due to the damage it will wreak on the country’s livestock industry.