African Swine Fever (ASF)

African swine fever seems to be a never ending hot topic. Reports suggesting that over half the breeding population has been wiped out in China, it would not be unreasonable to assume that it will also cause some more major issues in Eastern Europe. This will present the UK with an opportunity to tap into these markets and hopefully ensure a good price for our product for the foreseeable future.

However, the disease also poses a threat to the UK.

Our current threat level is “Medium”, which is the highest without actually detecting the disease in this country. The impact of the disease reaching the UK would be catastrophic. The pig sector would immediately lose the ability to export pigmeat to China (a market currently worth £93 million per annum). Pig farms designated within control zones would also lose all ability to trade pigs and pigmeat. Depending on the scale of the outbreak, large areas of the countryside would need to be shut down in an attempt to control the disease, affecting not only pig farmers but also the many local businesses reliant on tourism.

As an industry we need to be vigilant and do everything within our power to keep the disease out. The Pig Veterinary Society is campaigning for increased presence of information at ports and airports. Ignorance of the public is certainly a big risk; there has been an incidence where a Spanish pig building manufacturer sent a ham as a Christmas gift to the customer’s pig farm address…

ASF can be spread by:

  • Pigs eating contaminated pigmeat or meat products.
    • This is the largest threat for the UK. Dried pork products from Eastern Europe, travelling with individuals who work in the UK.
       
  • Direct contact with infected pigs, faeces or body fluids.
     
  • Indirect contact via equipment, vehicles or people who work with pigs moving between pig farms with ineffective biosecurity.
    • These will be more significant should ASF reach the UK. There is a small risk from wild boar hunters returning from Europe.
       
  • Soft ticks of the genus Ornithodoros.

It can survive for long periods outside of a living animal:

  • 11 days in faeces held at room temperature
  • 70 days in blood on wooden boards
  • 15 weeks in putrefied blood
  • 150 days in boned meat held at 4 degrees C
  • 140 days in salted dried hams
  • 18 months in pig blood held at 4 degrees C
  • 1,000 days in frozen meat

As you can see, and following outbreaks globally, it is an extremely tough disease to get rid of once it takes hold. Prevention, in this case, is certainly better than cure. Because there isn’t one!