BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday issued new rules to tighten notification of cases of African swine fever, including incentives for whistleblowers, amid concerns that outbreaks of the highly contagious disease are being under reported.
The notice comes as the world's top pork producer struggles to contain the disease with more than 60 outbreaks in 18 provinces since early August, leading to the culling of hundreds of thousands of pigs.
Under the new rules from the agriculture ministry, it is forbidden to delay or obstruct the reporting of new outbreaks, to issue false test reports or illegal health certificates and to illegally dispose of infected animals.
The ministry also said whistleblowers would be rewarded, but did not give further details.
Many experts suspect that the number of outbreaks in China is much higher than reported, given the fragmented nature of the country's farming sector.
"I think the reporting is not complete," Qin Yinglin, chairman at major pig farming firm Muyuan Foods Co Ltd, told Reuters at a conference last month.
"The sites that have reported outbreaks are not in succession. They just abruptly emerge," he said.
It is also accepted that the disease entered China well before the first reported outbreak, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.
Beijing has already banned the transport of live hogs from infected provinces and neighboring regions to prevent the spread of the disease, and requires trucks carrying live animals to be registered and to use location-tracking systems.
However the rules have been flouted, with some cases reported of illegal selling and transporting of pigs.
The latest rules suggest that Beijing will continue with its policy to contain the disease, even as it has a huge impact on the sector, said Pan.
Pig prices have slumped in northern farming regions which have a surplus of pigs that they are unable to transport to markets in the country's populous south.
"If the policy remains the same, lots of breeding herds will be slaughtered in the north because farmers don't want to continue raising pigs," said Pan.
China also reported a new case of the disease on Wednesday in the city of Huaihua in southern Hunan province, which killed 55 pigs on a farm of 73 animals.
(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and Dominique Patton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)