China’s new animal health rules alone won’t stop zoonotic outbreaks, experts warn

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Enforcement of rules and boosting numbers of vets to help with inspections, quarantines and general animal health seen as critical

China’s attempts to prevent another zoonotic disease outbreak will fail without deep changes in enforcement, oversight, and extensive investment to ramp up veterinary capacity, say experts.

China’s top lawmakers last week approved revisions to the country’s law on preventing the spread of animal diseases. Amendments to the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, due to come into force in May, were accelerated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The outbreak of the deadly pig disease African swine fever (ASF), which has decimated as much as 40% of China’s pig production since 2018, has been an added impetus for reform.

The new measures include a system of quarantine standards for captive bred wildlife; revisions to a system for classifying animal epidemics based on their potential impact on human health, the economy and the public; compulsory vaccinations; and stipulations for veterinarians to pass qualification tests.

However, observers said the challenge was poor enforcement of rules, rather than the need for new ones. “If China is truly to prevent and tackle future viruses, it is immensely important that the revised law is not simply adopted or revised and then ignored,” Peter J Li, a China policy specialist at the Humane Society International, told the Guardian.

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