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UK African swine fever risk level unchanged

17th Sep 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The risk of the African swine fever virus entering the UK remains at 'medium', following confirmation of the virus in wild boar in Belgium, according to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. 

wild boarASF was confirmed in four wild boar in the Belgian region of Luxembourg, just a few miles from the French border, last week. Three were adult wild boar found dead and a state of decomposition, while other was a young weakened animal which was shot dead. It is understood a further three cases in wild boar have now been confirmed.

The risk level of the virus entering the country was recently increased to medium on a temporary basis, following a surge of cases in central and eastern Europe, particularly Romania. This will remain in place in light of the events in Belgium. 

The risk of exposure to the pig population in the UK is still considered to be low, dependent on the level of biosecurity on pig premises, although the situation is being kept under review, the agency added.

This marks the first identification of ASF in wild boar or domestic pigs in Western Europe in several years – Belgium’s last case was in 1985 when twelve farms tested positive as a result of contact with contaminated pig meat from Spain.

The source of the current outbreak has not been confirmed, and investigations are continuing. But given the distance between other confirmed cases of ASF in wild boar, it is most likely that infection has again been introduced by infected meat products or fomites (virus carried on clothes or vehicles, for example) from ASFinfected areas, in other words, human spread, APHA said.

The agency added: “These cases reported in wild boar are concerning as there are large numbers of wild boar in this area, crossing EU borders, which is forested. Eradication will be a challenge to be met through close collaboration and information sharing between those Member States at risk.”

Interim protective measures are in place, delineated by the border with Luxembourg and France, but further measures will be discussed at the Standing Committee on Plant, Animals, Food and Feed meeting next week.

The outbreaks are already affecting the market. Singapore has issued a temporary ban of Belgian pigmeat and it is expected that China, currently struggling to contain its own outbreak, will follow.

Imports of pig meat from Belgium accounted for around 4% of the UK total (23,000 tonnes), mainly primary fresh/frozen pork, from January to July, according to HMRC data. Most of this is primary fresh/frozen pork, around half of which is in the form of fresh pork cuts. Belgium is a significant supplier of loins to bacon manufacturers.

APHA advice

The agency reiterated its advice to pig keepers to take all steps possible to keep the virus away from their pigs.

“It is important to highlight that all products of porcine origin (including wild boar), unless processed in a certain way, is a high risk commodity from affected areas.

“These products include fresh or frozen pig meat, salamis and hams, skins and bristles, germinal products, live animals, hunting trophies and any equipment which has had contact with an affected animal or the environment where they are found.

“Pig keepers and veterinarians should remind themselves of the clinical signs for ASF and images and descriptions of clinical signs and pathology of ASF are provided on this link.”

The NPA has issued guidance to members on measures to prevent ASF infection in UK pigs. AHDB has also set up a dedicated webpage with information for producers.

The association is working closely with Defra and others to raise awareness amongst pig keepers and the general public about the threat of ASF and the importance of upholding the swill feeding ban.

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