BEIJING (Reuters) – China has loosened the rules on the transportation of breeder pigs and piglets in provinces that are affected by the African swine fever, the agriculture ministry said on Thursday.

The move, which came after Beijing reported more than 90 cases of the highly contagious disease since August, was put in place to ensure pig production and pork supplies, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on its website.

Breeder pigs and piglets from counties without outbreaks of the disease will be allowed to be transported to other provinces, the ministry said.

Breeder pigs and piglets from infected counties will be allowed to be moved within the infected province, it added.

Market pigs produced at farms with high biosecurity levels in infected counties can also be targeted – sold to slaughterhouses with 150,000 pigs per year or above slaughtering capacity in the province, according to the statement.

Beijing had previously banned the transport of live pigs from regions infected with the disease, leading to a steep drop in prices in major production areas in the north that usually sell pigs to other regions.

Farmers in some major production areas in the north were forced to raise their pigs to much more than the usual weight due to the ban, and became reluctant to replenish herds on worries of the African swine fever disease.

Beijing has been looking for ways to ensure supplies of the country’s favorite meat, as the deadly virus hit the world’s largest pig herd.

China will strengthen supplies of pork and its alternative products during New Year and Spring Festival holidays, the Ministry of Commerce also said in a statement on Thursday.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Louise Heavens)