Chinese criminals have been exploiting the country’s African swine fever crisis by intentionally spreading the disease to force farmers to sell their pigs for a low price before smuggling the meat and selling it on as healthy stock, state media has reported.

Sometimes the gangs spread rumours about the virus, which is fatal to pigs, but in more extreme cases they are using drones to drop infected items into farms, according to an investigation by the magazine China Comment, which is affiliated to state news agency Xinhua.

The disease has reduced the country’s pig herds by over 40% due to mass culls designed to stop it spreading further. The resulting shortages have seen pork prices more than double, providing opportunities for the criminals to exploit.

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