WASHINGTON—Sources in China's northwestern Xinjiang region say a large number of livestock there are sick and dying as a result of what appears to be foot and mouth disease. Meat prices have surged, and officials have set up checkpoints to inspect livestock transports for the highly contagious disease, they say.
"The government media aren’t reporting the outbreak… We went to local media to ask them to inform our herdsmen about the disease, but all of them said that without approval from a supervisor they can’t report it."
“The entire Uyghur Autonomous Region is affected,” an official at the Uyghur Autonomous Regional Animal Husbandry Bureau said in a telephone interview from Urumqi. “Our bureau cadres went to help local people to control the situation. If you want to know more information, ask them when they come back.”
Other official and unofficial sources in Xinjiang—a remote, poor, and predominantly Muslim region—confirmed that livestock there had first begun falling ill with what the Chinese describe as “disease number five” over the last month. “Disease number five” denotes what the rest of the world calls “foot and mouth” or “hoof and mouth” disease.
An ethnic Chinese night-shift worker in Nilka County, Ili Prefecture, described the outbreak in Ili as especially grim, with devastating consequences for cows and sheep in the area.
“A disease has hit our livestock, both cows and sheep,” said the worker, who asked not to be named. “It has been going on for a month, and most of the animals are dying—some are left. The government is controlling this very tightly. We can see government people wearing white clothes everywhere, cleaning up the mess.”
Another source in Ili Prefecture, a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that officials had set up checkpoints in a bid to stop the transport of infected livestock from the region.
“Many cows are dying,” she said. “The government has set up checkpoints on the roads to inspect vehicles transporting animals in and out of the region. We don’t know what kind of disease this is.”
According to a butcher, also in Urumqi, “The situation is very serious—meat prices have already gone up.”
“The problem is so big most of herdsmen are losing their livestock,” said another source, adding, “Government media aren’t reporting the outbreak.”
“We went to local media to ask them to inform our herdsmen about the disease, but all of them said that without approval from a supervisor, they can’t report it. Finally we sent someone to Ili City, to the Uyghur radio station, and their answer was the same—but they told us to inform Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. So we called you.”
Xinjiang local governments have reported on their Web sites that the regional vice governor had called an urgent teleconference with other officials to discuss the outbreak and call for steps to curb it, however.
Foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious virus that generally affects livestock with cloven hoofs. It is often deadly and leaves surviving animals debilitated.