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Is your business ready for African swine fever?

1st Nov 2018 / By Alistair Driver

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies has urged producers to ensure they are ready for African swine fever (ASF) if the virus hits the UK pig herd.

African swine fever symptomsThe worrying spread of ASF was one of the hot topics during the recent round of NPA autumn regional meetings.

Zoe outlined the current situation in China, where ASF has now been detected across much of the country, including on large commercial farms, and Belgium where the number of cases in wild boar is now over 100, although the commercial herd remains unaffected. The Belgian authorities expect the figure toreach 300-400 and are planning a cull of wild boar.

Zoe said there was still no clear indication of how the virus reached Belgium, with theories ranging from army movements, to trucks coming from infected areas and even hunters bringing in wild boar, although the authorities insist the latter is not happening.

“However it got there, it just goes to show how easy it is for the virus to jump very long distances,” she told the South Central meeting in Newbury.

As some countries have banned Belgian pork exports, pig prices have dropped, prompting some to take advantage. Belgian pork has apparently been ‘flooding into London’s Smithfield Market’, Zoe added. 

Communications programme 

With the virus so close and the implications of an outbreak potentially devastating for the pig sector, she said there was a 'massive amount of effort going on' to ensure everything is being done to protect the UK herd against the disease, but also to prepare for the worst.

"We are engaging in a major communications programme," she said. "We really do not want to get this disease. I was very unfortunate to be on IP1 in East Anglia when we got CSF in 2000 and I don’t want any of you to go through what we went through. It is a horrible experience that stays with you for a long time.”

She outlined the activities the NPA was engaging in with other organisations to raise awareness of the dangers of ASF, including:

  • Raising awareness about the risks among hauliers and anybody bringing in products, not just pork-related. This includes a meeting with the Road Haulage Association, which has pledged to send a message to all members via its app.
  • Working with Defra, APHA, AHDB, PVS and others to get messages across to farmers, smallholders and pet pig keepers and also the allied industries, retailers and gatherings like farmers’ markets, about how they can minimise the risk.
  • Urging the Forestry Commission to raise awareness about the risks of allowing feral boar to access waste food in the Forest of Dean.
  • Urging Defra to work with the UK border force about the messages they have in place at all entry points to the UK.
  • Setting up a dedicated ASF section on the NPA website. There is also an ASF section on the AHDB website.

What producers can do

Zoe added: “There is also a lot that you can do. Number one is contingency planning. You have got to think, in the most desperate situation, what you could do if you ended up being stuck in an infected zone.

“Once a zone is in place, the soonest it could be lifted with ASF is 40 days, but it could be more. If you have a breeding unit producing pigs on a weekly basis or a finishing unit with pigs nearing the end of the batch, you need to think about what temporary accommodation you could put in place.

“The whole country could be put within a temporary control zone in the early days of an outbreak, while the authorities try and ascertain the extent of the disease spread.

“I don’t want to panic people, but I want you to think about what you could do if standstills were put in place.”

Zoe also urged producers to think about biosecurity, including:

  • Ensuring no pigs, or feral boar, are able to access meat or waste food products.
  • Ensuring no pork products are consumed on farm
  • Putting signs up warning the public not to feed outdoor pigs
  • Making sure anyone coming onto farm has not visited an infected area recently or come into contact with pigs, including on petting farms.
  • Making sure staff are aware of the signs of the disease. It is not as easy to spot as some diseases, eg CSF. Key signs include a reddening of ears and the underside of the belly.

Important reading

You can read more about contingency planning for disease outbreaks like ASF here

Defra-APHA summarise the symptoms and provide biosecurity advice here ​​​​​​​