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A new type of swine flu found in Chinese pigs has sparked concern among scientists that it may have the potential to cause a new pandemic – but for South Africa it may spell opportunity.

According to research published in the Proceeding of The National Academy of Science, the biggest reason for concern is that the virus has also been found in pig farmers, although it is not yet known to have been spread from person to person.

The “G4 genotype” virus has genetic similarities to the virus which caused the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

If the virus is spread only by pigs, South Africa is in the clear; SA imports pork products largely from Brazil and Australia, and not from China, says agricultural economist Sifiso Ntombela.

The South African Pork Producer’s Organisation (SAPPO) says it would be close to impossible for the virus to make its way into the South African pork industry given the regulations in place to prevent just such an occurrence.

Meanwhile, South Africa could see new export opportunities open up.

China is one of the biggest consumers of swine meat and “the consumer perception on the domestically produced swine in China could reduce drastically,” said Ntombela.

This, coupled with China’s ongoing trade dispute with the US and Australia – which are the largest suppliers of swine products to China – “presents an opportunity for South Africa to become a supply of swine products to China.

“But given these trying times, strengthening biosecurity measures to ensure zero transmission of the virus into South Africa is a primary priority,” said Ntombela.

SAPPO is one of the organisations actively trying maximise on the potential opportunity.

“We would like the opportunity to export pork to China and are currently in the process of applying to Chinese veterinary authorities to give us the “green light”,” said Peter Evans, veterinary liaison officer at SAPPO.

Business Insider | Phumi Ramalepe |

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