At least a quarter of the world's swine population could die when a mass outbreak of African swine fever spreads, says a global animal health organization.
The death would cause global pig shortages, driving up prices for pork and animal-dependent products, said Mark Schipp, president of the World Organization for Animal Health.
"I don't think the species is lost, but it's the biggest threat to commercial pig farming we've ever seen," Schipp told reporters on Thursday in Sydney. "And it's the biggest threat to any commercial cattle of our generation."
African swine fever It is a viral disease that can spread rapidly to swine herds, according to the Iowa State University Center for Food Safety and Public Health. The disease does not pose a threat of infection to humans.
The virus spreads through direct contact with infected animals, living or dead, or objects that hit infected animals, and no approved vaccines, says the World Organization for Animal Health.
Last year, the disease rocked China, which is home to half of the world's pork population, Schipp said, fueling the global crisis and damaging China's pork market.
Africa and some areas of Europe, South America and the Caribbean have historically observed most outbreaks, but the disease has spread in recent years to countries in Asia and Europe as well, according to the World Animal Health Organization.
According Reuters, the disease has killed hundreds of millions of pigs in 50 countries.
"The risk exists for all countries, whether geographically close or geographically distant, because there are a plethora of potential sources of contamination," Monique Eloit, director of the World Organization for Animal Health, told the news agency.
Schipp also highlighted concern for quality control, especially in products with sausage skins, salami and similar foods.
"These packaging products go through many countries," he said. "They are cleaned in one, classified in another, classified in another, partially treated in another and finally treated in one quarter of the fifth country. They are very difficult to track in so many countries."
Blood-thinning heparin, made from swine and widely sourced from China, may also face shortages, Schipp said.
Contribution: The Associated Press. Follow Ryan Miller from USA TODAY on Twitter: @RyanW_Miller