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Prime time warning on food imports as ASF threat grows

11th Dec 2017 / By Alistair Driver

The risk to the national pig herd from African Swine Fever (ASF) was highlighted to the wider public during a BBC Countryfile programme on Sunday night.

CF MSThe programme’s Tom Heap described ASF as ‘the most infectious virus’ known to affect pigs, which, also known as ‘pig plague’, was creeping westward across Europe, including into the Czech Republic, one step away from major EU pig producer Germany.

AHDB strategy director Mick Sloyan told Mr Heap it would be ‘absolutely devastating’ if ASF got into the UK pig herd. “The real issue would be with our exports. We have a market worth £400 million a year. If we got just one outbreak, we would lose that market overnight.

“We know from what has happened in continental Europe that some of the meat from infected pigs has been made into traditional products like salami and dried sausage. It is a very tough virus – it can survive in frozen meat for a year or more.

“We heard that lot of lorry drivers who come over here like to bring their own food with them. If they discarded a sandwich or left it where it could be picked up by carrion, then that could find its way into the wild boar population or even onto farms.”

The feature can be viewed here (26 mins). Later on in the programme (approx 46 minutes) you can also enjoy an excellent feature on Chris Fogden's large outdoor herd in Norfolk - it is well worth a view. 

Awareness campaign

The 2000 Classical Swine Fever outbreak was thought to have been caused by an outdoor pig eating a discarded ham sandwich, while the 2001 foot-and-mouth was blamed on pigs being fed illegal waste food.

Defra and the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) have teamed up with pig industry organisations in a communications campaign to stress to all pig keepers the need to follow the rules on feeding waste to pigs food to protect against ASF and other major notifiable diseases. Key messages include (see poster below):

  • Do not feed pigs with food scraps and catering waste from any restaurant or commercial kitchen, or raw, partially cooked or fully cooked meat and fish (including shellfish).
  • It is illegal to feed catering waste of any description or domestic food waste or scraps from kitchens to farm animals in the UK, including pet pigs
  • You can feed pigs vegetable material that has never entered a kitchen and has not come into contact with a material of animal origin
  • Specially formulated commercial pig feed is the safest and easiest way to give pigs a balanced diet.

ASF posterAlso interviewed on Countryfile, APHA head virologist Professor Ian Brown said ASF was a ‘terrible, devastating and highly contagious disease’ that would have huge implications for pig health and welfare and the entire industry if it got into the country.  He urged all pig keepers not to feed kitchen scraps, which is illegal anyway and poses a huge risk to the pig industry.

ASF risk level

The risk of ASF entering the UK was raised from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ (rare but could occur) over the summer, following an increase in cases in Poland and a new hot spot of wild boar cases in the Czech Republic. The latter were of particular concern due to the long distance from previous outbreaks, suggesting some form of human spread, such as via infected food or illegal animal movements.

In mid-November, the virus was found in wild boar at two different sites around 140 km from Poland’s eastern border. This represented a further westward spread into a new area and was seen as a concern as it takes infection closer to the more pig dense area of western Poland.

Over the past month, new outbreaks of ASF have also been detected in the EU in the Czech Republic and Latvia and in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova. It is also present in Estonia, Lithuania and Sardinia.

Some of the spread in the EU has been attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs consuming contaminated pork products from non EU countries brought in by visitors or workers

There are concerns that the movement of people with contaminated clothing, boots or equipment, vehicles and personal imports of pork products could result in the introduction of the highly contagious and often devastating disease to the UK.

National Pig Association chief executive  Zoe Davies, said: “A notifiable disease outbreak would not only needlessly result in the loss of many pigs and annihilate our burgeoning export market, but would significantly impact on countless families, their staff, local businesses and tourism for months. Feeding illegal food waste, however harmless it might seem at the time, is just not worth the risk.”

You can view the NPA's ASF briefing here