China says African swine fever outbreaks slowing
Vice minister says pig output gradually returning to normal
He made comments when asked about reports of fresh outbreaks
Disease has swept through China since last August
Adds detail, background
BEIJING, July 4 (Reuters) - The number of fresh outbreaks of African swine fever in China has dropped significantly this year and pig production is gradually returning to normal, its vice agriculture minister said, amid recent reports underscoring the threat of the disease.
African swine fever is deadly to pigs and there is no cure or vaccine for the disease, which has swept through China, the world's top pork producer, since August last year.
Asked about reports of recent fresh outbreaks of swine fever, Vice Agriculture Minister Yu Kangzhen said China had seen only 44 new cases in the first six months of 2019.
That brings the total number of cases China has reported so far to 143, with 1.16 million pigs culled, Yu told reporters at a briefing on Thursday.
However, many outbreaks are not being reported, farmers have told Reuters, with local officials in many provinces unwilling to verify the disease.
Reuters reported this week that as many as half of China's breeding pigs have died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the spreading disease, twice as many as had been officially acknowledged.
Yu said the government had a "zero tolerance policy" on not reporting outbreaks of the disease, adding that such cases would be severely punished.
But he said there were still challenges in controlling the spread of the fever. Feeding kitchen waste to pigs is banned but still taking place, said Yu.
The virus can remain in meat that has not been properly cooked and infect pigs that eat food scraps.
The capability of China's many small farmers to prevent the disease is weak, he added.
Yu also warned that research and development of a vaccine to prevent swine fever is only in the early stages and faced lots of challenges and technical bottlenecks.
He declined to comment on a timeline for the likely launch of a Chinese-made vaccine.
Chinese state media reported in May that government researchers were ready to start clinical trials on a vaccine after identifying suitable candidates.
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Martin Pollard; writing by Dominique Patton; editing by Christian Schmollinger and Joseph Radford)
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