02/13/2020, 17.07
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Sumatra Batak call for action against swine fever without pig culling

by Mathias Hariyadi

For the mostly Christian ethnic group, pigs play a key role in their culture and economy. The ASF epidemic originated in China in August 2018. In Indonesia, it has killed up to 46,000 pigs.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Batak, a predominantly Christian ethnic group living in North Sumatra, have called on the Indonesian government to counter the spread of the African swine fever (ASF) without culling healthy pigs.

Pigs in the world’s most populous Muslim countries are haram, forbidden, to most people, but they play and important cultural and economic role among the Batak.

The ASF outbreak originated on farms in Shenyang, in the Chinese province of Liaoning, in August 2018. Quickly, the highly contagious disease spread to neighbouring countries, especially in Southeast Asia.

In Indonesia, some 46,000 animals have died as a result of the ASF so far. As of 22 November, about 10,300 animals had died in 16 districts in North Sumatra province. Just a few days earlier, almost 5,800 had died.

Last month, North Sumatra Governor Edy Rahmayadi said he was considering culling all pigs in the province as a last-resort measure to stop the virus from spreading.

Although local authorities did not go through with this, hundreds of Batak launched the "#SaveBabi" (#Save-the-pig) movement, which three days ago staged a protest rally at the North Sumatera Regional People's Representative Council building in Medan.

Protesters reiterated their demand that pigs not be culled, asking Indonesian president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, to intervene as soon as possible to solve the health emergency, which has already caused serious economic losses among the province’s farmers.

Azhar Harahap, head of the North Sumatra Food and Livestock Resilience Agency, tried to reassure protesters. He noted that ASF has no cure but explained that culling animals is not possible under the national animal welfare rules of 2012 as well as the directives of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE[*]), except in the case of zoonosis, a fatal disease for humans.

Azhar added that the provincial administration has set up a rapid response unit to ensure that healthy pigs are not infected, stating that the authorities are closely monitoring livestock movements in villages, subdistricts, districts, cities and provinces, and that transporting pigs to and from North Sumatera has been banned.

In Indonesia, some ethnic groups rely on pork as the main staple food on special occasions. This is the case for the Batak in North Sumatra, but also the Minahasan (Manado) in North Sulawesi), Dayaks (Kalimantan) and indigenous Papuans (Papua).

[*] formerly the Office International des Epizooties.

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