By Dominique Patton

BEIJING (Reuters) – WH Group, China’s top pork processor, said on Thursday it was trying to verify a Taiwan government statement that the African swine fever virus was found in a sausage made by a subsidiary that was brought to the island by a traveler.

The findings in Taiwan suggests that pigs carrying the disease are still being slaughtered and processed in China. South Korea and Japan have also reported finding processed meat products imported from China containing the disease.

China has reported almost 50 outbreaks of the highly contagious disease in 13 provinces since early August.

The subsidiary, Henan Shuanghui Investment and Development, has not found the disease in any of its products sold in mainland China, a WH spokeswoman said.

WH Group reported finding pigs with the disease at one of its slaughterhouses in August, forcing it to shut the plant for six weeks.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture said on its website on Wednesday it had found the African swine fever gene in a product called “Shuanghui Crispy Sausage”.

The sausage was one of 306 meat products smuggled into the self-ruled island between late August and Oct. 30, it said.

The gene was 100 percent similar to the strain of African swine fever circulating in China, the council said.

It added that authorities would severely punish tourists for illegally carrying meat into Taiwan.

“This is not good as it indicates the African swine fever virus is entering the human food chain and begs the question if China has this under control,” said an animal health expert with a major agribusiness firm in China who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the topic.

Earlier this week, Taiwan’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said it and the Customs Administration have been jointly stepping up searches of travelers’ luggage at airports and seaports, according to a report by the official media CNA.

Shares in Shuanghui dropped as much as 6 percent on Thursday on concerns about the impact of African swine fever on its business.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)