By Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported its first outbreak of the deadly African swine fever (ASF) on Friday, as authorities in Liaoning province in the country’s northeast culled almost 1,000 hogs and rushed to control the highly contagious disease.

News of the infection will stoke concern about its spread in the world’s largest pig herd, and possibly to Japan, the Korean Peninsula and other parts of Asia. Cases have been recorded across Europe, Russia and sub-Saharan Africa, but it has never occurred in East Asia until now, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Some 913 hogs were slaughtered near Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, and the outbreak had been effectively contained, the provincial animal health bureau said.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued an alert following the outbreak, banning farmers from transporting hogs from the affected areas and from feeding the animals with untreated food waste.

The ministry said the infection was discovered on Wednesday on a small farm with a herd of 383 pigs in Shenbei New district in Shenyang and was confirmed on Friday. Some 47 pigs died from the disease.

“If it can be put under control, it should not be a problem … but we have to watch the developments very carefully,” said Yao Guiling, an analyst with consultancy China-America Commodity Data Analytics.

“If the disease gets out of control, the losses will be immeasurable.”

The appearance of the disease is the latest blow to Chinese hog farmers, who have been struggling with a prolonged rout as years of frenzied investment to boost production have created oversupply, with output well beyond stagnating domestic demand.

A widespread outbreak and major culling would help remove some of the excess but it may also damage demand just as China prepares for a pick up in consumption during the week-long Midautumn holiday in October.

ASF is one of the most devastating diseases to affect swine herds. It occurs among pigs and wild boars, transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals. Its effects are often deadly, and there is no vaccine.

It does not affect humans.

China is home to about half of the global pig population, with thousands of backyard and large-scale farms operating in the northern, central and southern regions. It produces about half of the world’s pork and is the top consumer of the meat.

Smallhold farmers are less likely to have safety standards or biosecurity in place to protect against the disease. A big wild boar population can also make an area more vulnerable to infection, experts say.

An official at South Korea’s agriculture ministry said the country has not introduced any steps to increase quarantine checks or curb imports from China, but the country does not import from ASF-infected countries.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Additional reporting by Jane Chung in SEOUL; Editing by Tom Hogue)