AFRICAN SWINE Fever is reportedly sweeping through the continent of Asia like wildfire, having recently hit Vietnam, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Cambodia and North Korea.

Millions of pigs have been culled as a result and ASF is now being labelled as the 'biggest animal disease outbreak we've ever had on the planet', according to veterinary epidemiologist Dirk Pfeiffer from City University of Hong Kong.

"It makes the foot-and-mouth disease and BSE outbreaks pale in comparison to the damage that is being done. And we have no way to stop it from spreading," he warned.

To contain the infection, around 1.1 million pigs have been culled in China since last August. But Mr Pfeiffer suggested that the outbreak may have spread to neighbouring countries 'through pork products brought in illegally from Vietnam and China, even if just by tourists or truck drivers.'

The highly infectious disease, which is harmless to humans, is still without a vaccine. Recent reports of ASF in Europe set alarm bells ringing, calling into question the globalisation of modern food production. Last week 8000 infected wild boar were culled in Poland, and Denmark is in the process of building a 43-mile border fence to keep wild boar from bringing the disease into their country.

Chief executive of the Scottish Pig Producers co-op, Andy McGowan, explained how the outbreak in Asia will impact on global prices and demand: “China has seen 30% of its pig population culled since August which has driven up pork prices and is also going to start raising chicken and beef prices globally to meet the gap in the market. This has also led to a reduction in feed prices as volumes of soya needed for feed have reduced so there is increased availability. This could potentially put our sector in a nice position of having higher pork prices and lower feed prices, however, unfortunately not for a good reason.

“One note of caution is that the domestic meat market isn’t very buoyant, so all of a sudden if prices increase, it could lead to a drop in consumption of pork at a time where we are struggling to get people to eat more anyway,” he continued.

“China has also started culling dairy cows for beef, to manage a protein deficit in the population, which is a short term fix and will soon lead to an increased demand for exports to China in the way of dairy products, which could be good news to our dairy producers.”

NFU Scotland’s pigs committee chairman, Jamie Wyllie commented: “ASF in China is the reason that the pig price has risen dramatically in Europe and China. The price in the UK should be higher than it is but reports indicate that extra meat kept in storage in case of a hard Brexit depressed prices here. This meat is being released slowly from cold store – it will run out soon if it has not already – and prices have been lifting in recent weeks,” he explained.

The union's animal health policy manager Penny Middleton added: “The big risk is that this devastating disease marches over to the UK. Although completely safe to humans, ASF can stay active in cooked and frozen meat products for a number of months.

“Due to the presence of ASF in Belgium, the UK risk level is medium,” she said. “That calls for increased biosecurity on farms, avoiding swill feeding and great care when importing meat.”