Amid a region-wide African swine fever (ASF) epidemic in Asia, North Korean trading companies have been smuggling large-scale quantities of Chinese pig feed, possibly exacerbating the spread of the disease into the Korean peninsula, sources say.
After first being reported in China in August 2018, ASF spread all over that country, spilling over its borders into Vietnam and other neighboring countries.
According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Korean peninsula had been spared from the spread of the virus until May 2019, when North Korea reported an outbreak in Chagang province.
RFA’s Korean Service published a report dated September 20 in which a source indicated that ASF actually entered the country before that, in April.
Regardless of when exactly it entered, sources say that the presence of unchecked Chinese pig feed shows that North Korea’s pork industry and local authorities are not doing enough to prevent the spread of the disease.
“African swine fever is still rapidly spreading in North Pyongan province, and many pigs on farms and ranches are dying because of it,” a trade worker from North Pyongan told RFA on September 25.
“But trading companies are smuggling unidentified pig feed from China into the market. There are no labels containing information about the pig feed manufacturer and no quality certifications stamped on the bags of feed,” the source said.
The source said that the pork industry seems to care little about the seriousness of the issue and are only concerned with their bottom line.
“Swine fever has spread nationwide in North Korea and the state-run companies, which are supposed to do everything they can to prevent the spread of the disease are smuggling the pig feed in, claiming that they are making [a lot] of foreign currency,” said the source.
“The fact that the trading companies do not care about taking preventative measures is pathetic,” the source said, adding that the companies are “just doing whatever they can to make money.”
But the source was more concerned that the government is not doing enough to prevent ASF’s spread, even taking their cut from the proceeds of smuggling.
“The bigger problem is that the authorities are turning a blind eye to the actions of these companies, accepting bribes in dollars earned from smuggling,” said the source.
“Because they are failing to come up with any special measures to prevent swine fever, resentment toward the authorities is growing day by day,” the source said.
Business as usual
A second source, a resident of North Pyongan’s Ryongchon county, explained the ongoing popularity of Chinese feed in North Korea despite the lack of quality control.
“Although Chinese pig feed is not screened for hygienic conditions, it is popular in the local markets because it contains a growth catalyst that fattens the pigs in a short amount of time,” the second source said.
A third source, a North Korean trade worker in Dandong, China, which is just across the Yalu river from North Korea, said that the Korean Workers’ Party appears to be unfazed by the spread of ASF and are continuing to make efforts to maximize pork production.
“A senior trade official from headquarters came to Dandong a few days ago to discuss a project related to pig feed production,” the third source said on September 25.
“He toured a feed factory in Dandong with a local trade representative, [and he plans] to import the pig-feed-making machines,” the third source said.
“The party is only focusing on livestock product production, including pork, rather than preventing the spread of the swine fever in North Pyongan Province and other inland areas,” said the third source.
“They are pressing factories, farms and foreign currency generating organizations [to boost production despite the current crisis],” the third source said.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.