China is the world's top producer and consumer of pork. So when 50% of its pig herd was wiped out in 2019 from African Swine Fever (ASF), it caused pork prices in the back half of the year to hyperinflate. The immediate response by the government was to consolidate pig farms and release pork from its strategic reserves. Other measures included sourcing pork from South American countries, like Brazil and Argentina, along with reestablishing trade with the US in the last several weeks.
Now the Chinese government is working to limit the spread of ASF through a high-voltage electricity experiment installed in pig barns, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The new device will be installed at a medium-sized hog farm in Chengdu, in one of China's top pig producing regions.
The goal of the test is to see whether an electric field around a barn can limit the transmission of deadly viruses.
Professor Liu Binjiang, a government scientist in northeastern China, is responsible for the "electro culture" program that has already been a huge success for increasing crop yields and reducing plant viruses.
Binjiang and his team are creating a static electric field of 50 kilovolts around a barn that holds thousands of pigs.
He believes the high-voltage discharges will break down chemicals, reduce biological aerosol by 50-90%, kill germs, and stop the spread of viruses that are transmitted through the air.
"The air quality [for the pigs] should improve when the device is powered up," Binjiang said. "Electricity is one of the many ways to improve living conditions for farm animals. We have a long to-do list."
Binjiang claims that high-voltage electricity was used to create an electric field around a barn in the Hubei province, one of the hardest-hit ASF areas; he claims that none of the pigs died from the virus.
"It had been deployed to enhance animal welfare and prevent airborne diseases such as foot and mouth, but the lack of African swine fever cases was a surprise. It led the team to hypothesize that the electric field had caused a change in the environment that prevented the virus thriving," SCMP noted.
Electrifying pig farms to create force fields that scrub the air of deadly viruses could be the next big breakthrough China needs to restrict the spread of ASF.