BEIJING (Reuters) - China will allow large-scale pig farms and breeding farms to test for African swine fever in a bid to help early detection of the disease, overturning an earlier prohibition on commercial firms carrying out their own testing.
The agriculture ministry has asked local husbandry bureaus to encourage large farms to obtain testing kits for the deadly virus that has swept through the country, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on its website on Tuesday.
The move comes as China struggles to control the epidemic, which some analysts predict could see up to 200 million pigs die or be culled this year, causing a huge shortage of pork in the world's top producer.
Previously, Beijing required testing to be handled by government agencies after signs of illness had been detected, and test kits were not legally available in the market.
The change would help in the "early detection, early reporting and early handling" of African swine fever, reducing the risk of it spreading through transport, slaughtering and processing of infected pigs.
Outbreaks of the disease, which is not harmful to humans, has already been reported in almost every region of mainland China.
Many cases are also going unreported, industry insiders have told Reuters, and the detection and handling of outbreaks has been hampered by the previous rules on testing.
The statement said test kits should be approved by the ministry or the China Animal Disease Control Center.
Authorities should provide funding to the farms for testing and local animal husbandry departments should help with technical services, it added.
Prior to diagnosis, farms should isolate pigs and other potentially infected items, and positive samples should also be retained and not used for further tests without the ministry's approval, it added.
While the agriculture ministry has repeatedly said the disease is under control, the statement noted that "the awareness of epidemic prevention in pig farms in China is generally weak."
It added, "the overall level of epidemic prevention is low, and the cleaning and disinfection measures are difficult to fully implement".
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; editing by Richard Pullin)