SCMP Friday, March 2, 2001


Foot-and-mouth outbreaks 'no cause for alarm'

CHEUNG CHI-FAI and CHOW CHUNG-YAN

Government officials yesterday insisted there was no cause for alarm after almost 500 animals died in the four months to January in one of Hong Kong's biggest outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in recent years.
During that period, the Government received reports from farmers that 2,152 pigs had been infected in 17 outbreaks. Of these, 464 died.
News of the outbreaks coincided with a major scare over foot-and-mouth disease which prompted a halt to pork exports from England and Wales.
Dr Leslie Sims, assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said there was no sign of a major outbreak in the SAR. He said vaccines had been used on pigs to control the disease, which has existed in Hong Kong for almost 50 years.
However, he admitted the vaccine was not perfect and some farmers did not administer it properly, resulting in pig deaths.
"The vaccine is not absolutely 100 per cent protective and the disease cannot be completely eliminated," Dr Sims said.
In 1999, 340 pigs died in nine outbreaks, compared with more than 1,700 deaths in 14 outbreaks the year before. There are 330 livestock farms rearing more than 400,000 pigs in the SAR.
Dr Sims said Hong Kong did not have to react in the same way as the United Kingdom because the disease would not affect human health and no livestock was exported from the SAR.
The European Union, Canada, the United States, Singapore and South Korea have banned fresh and frozen meat from the UK. The SAR has only banned livestock.
Fung Kin-chung, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association, said it was worried about a major outbreak, while pig farmers in the New Territories admitted the disease was widespread but denied it was out of control.
Leung Chik, 82, chairman of the Pig Farmers' Association, said the death rate of infected pigs had actually decreased. But Wong Kwong-wing, chairman of the separate Hong Kong Pig Farmers' Association, said SAR farmers were reluctant to kill sick pigs immediately, making it easier for the disease to spread.
"Most local farmers put their hopes on vaccinations and medicine and will only abandon their pigs when nothing can be done," he said.
A spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said its contractor had been told to pick up dead animals being dumped improperly by farmers. There are 78 collection points in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun and Northern District.