Great Britain

China is using 13-storey ‘hog hotels’ to keep pigs safe from disease

China is taking a novel approach to biosecurity, with 13-story high “hog hotels”, constructed to keep pigs disease-free.

One such hotel in southern China is home to over 10,000 pigs which live in a condominium-style complex with security cameras, carefully prepared meals, veterinary services and restricted access.

Pork is the main type of meat in China and the hotels aim to protect the pigs from viruses, including African swine fever, which had devastating effects when it wiped out half the nation’s hogs in the two years pre-pandemic.

African swine fever affects pigs in a similar way to how Ebola affects humans. The last outbreak in China in 2018, saw 400 million pigs die which is more than entire annual output of pigs the United States and Brazil combined.

In response to this, giant vertical farms known as “hog hotels” are being built by companies, including Muyuan Foods and New Hope Group, copying the more rigorous controls used by other countries to prevent disease among pigs.

Mr Rupert Claxton, the UK-based meat director at consultant Gira said that the biosecurity gap between China and the US and Europe was closing.

He explained: “In 20 years, it’s done what the Americans took probably 100 years to do,”

Following the African swine fever outbreak, new agriculture policies were introduced in an attempt to move pig farming away from backyard farms to larger-scale, industrial operations.

As a result, hog numbers have rapidly accelerated which has in turn led to a drop in pork prices. The authorities have even begun to purchase pork for state reserves, to help shore up the market.

In fact, as of 2020, 57 per cent of the country’s pig production has come from farms supplying more than 500 hogs a year. Prior to the outbreak only around one per cent came from larger suppliers.

The threat of African swine fever is still ongoing, however, with 11 incidents reported so far in 2021. China’s farm ministry said in July that this has resulted in the culling of more than 2,000 pigs.

Novel strains of the virus have begun to emerge in the pig population, meaning that it is becoming more complicated to respond to outbreaks. “Hog hotels” have systems in place to try and prevent outbreaks from occurring. These include robots which monitor the animals for fever, filter the air and automatically feed and disinfect.

Strict protocols are also enforced to minimise risks of an outbreak which could spread rapidly within a “hog hotel” due to the high number of pigs living there.

Staff members are made to shower and change their clothes when entering and exiting the facility. Wristwatches must also be left outside.

Some mega farms have even constructed dormitories for staff in an attempt to try and limit workers’ contact with the outside world.

Mr Claxton explained that China has avoided many of the restrictions which would affect creation of such large pig farms in other parts of the world.

He said: “In Europe and US, there are restrictions on how big we can make a pig farm because people just object - they don’t want to live next to these huge sites,”

Adding: “In China, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If it’s decided that a pig farm is needed, then the space is available.”

Additional reporting from Bloomberg

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