Swine Fever to Wipe Out a Quarter of World’s Pigs

A devastating virus sweeping the globe is poised to kill a quarter of the world’s pig population, literally hundreds of millions of animals.

The most recent outbreak of African Swine Fever began in eastern Europe five years ago, but quickly spread to other parts of the world. ASF is extremely virulent and can be carried in processed meat or frozen pig carcasses where it can survive for years. It also has a 100 percent fatality rate.

China’s pig population has been hit the hardest by the epidemic. It’s predicted that this year China could lose between 20 and 70 percent of their pigs, around 350 million animals. So far, more than 100 million have already perished. China is home to half the world’s total pig population.

Why is this happening? The sad truth is that pigs, like almost all animals exploited for food, are raised on factory farms where they are forced to live in filthy, crammed conditions by the thousands. This causes animals stress and lowers their immune system. Couple the high susceptibility to disease with small, confined spaces and you have a recipe for disaster.

Crowding at a US factory farm
Photo credit: AP / Charlie Riedel

Factory farms are awful everywhere, but in China they’ve taken things to a whole new level. Dubbed “hog hotels,” Chinese farmers are now building multi-level factory farms that can be up to several stories high (around a dozen floors) and house tens of thousands of animals. One privately owned company in China called Guangxi Yangxiang is working on the world’s largest pig factory farm. It will house 30,000 pigs and produce more than 800,000 piglets annually.

Construction of “hog hotels” in China

Back in the US, where ASF hasn’t shown up yet, farmers are seeing this as an opportunity to cash in. Knowing that China will most likely face a pork shortage, American farmers have begun breeding more pigs than they have in over 70 years resulting in a surplus of meat. Right now, there’s more than 40 million pounds of pork bellies sitting in refrigerated warehouses waiting to be sold.

Sadly, this isn’t the first (and it won’t be the last) time a disease like this ravages innocent animals on factory farms. In 2014, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) swept through American factor farms killing millions of pigs stateside.  

Main image: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals