African Swine Fever – Pigs Chair Blog – 28 September 2020

One step closer to home- The end

Recently we learned that African Swine Fever (ASF) was discovered in wild boar in Germany.  We have been expecting this moment for a long time but now that it has finally hit, does this mean the UK Government will take it any more seriously?

What’s so bad about ASF?  Is there any REAL cause for concern?  We’re in a global human pandemic it surely can't be as bad as that?

Well imagine we were in a pandemic, because we are, and it isn't going away anytime soon, because it isn't. Now imagine there wasn't enough food to go around, not because of people panic buying, but because there really isn’t enough food. Sound worse? I think so.

Maybe I am being sensationalist, but someone has to be. People that know me know that I don't overreact but sometimes you just have to, and this is a topic I get quite passionate about.

African Swine Fever has been about for years and is a disease that only affects pigs, it does not affect humans at all, so nothing to worry about then?  True, up until a few years ago it wasn't really as much of a concern but then it entered a number of countries’ domestic pig herds, in a short space of time, and since then has been creeping closer to home through Asia and Eastern Europe.

The disease causes up to 100 per cent mortality in pigs and there is currently no known cure. It can stay active for over a year in meat products even after the curing process.  Still, not too worrying to us, after all it doesn’t affect humans, right?

Well working on quite crude figures, 40 per cent of the meat eaten by humans is from pigs and 19 per cent of the UK diet is meat.

Now imagine that a disease, causing 100 per cent mortality, got into the pig population, immediately removing all the pork products from our supermarket shelves?

But that will never happen, not every pig farm would be hit surely? OK true, perhaps again I sensationalise, but let’s look at what has happened where ASF has hit. China has been reported to have lost over 50 per cent of its commercial pigs due to African Swine Fever - I personally had a call from someone in Hong Kong desperately asking me to send pork over for him to sell in his supermarket chain.

China is the biggest producer in the world of pig meat and it lost half its production in about a year, and that is with its geography and size as a factor in helping to prevent the spread of the disease further internally.

The UK is 39 times smaller than China and in certain parts of the country quite densely populated with pigs, therefore I don’t think it is unrealistic that a large majority of farms in the UK would probably get infected, and fairly quickly, devastate home pig production.

So, a disease this destructive to such an important food source will be on the government’s radar and they will be doing the best they can to stop it coming in, right? Wrong.  

The government is well aware of the threat of ASF, their officials estimate it will spread from one end of the country to the other in about a month, but they are not doing enough to stop it coming in!

There is still minimal, if any, signage at transport links telling people not to bring meat in. NFU Scotland’s Pigs Working Group, along with one of the largest pig coops in Scotland, offered to fund signage to get the ball rolling, but valuable advertising space got in the way of protecting our country's home production.

No questions are asked on arrival in the UK about pig contact.  I was in Canada last year and they had a declaration on your landing card just for ASF, I of course ticked the box as I had been in pig contact and was ushered into a side aisle for extra questioning. They take it seriously.

But it is not just non-farmers and the government who don't know the risks.  I still come across farmers who have a few pigs and still feed them swill from the kitchen. It is illegal to feed any foodstuff that has entered a kitchen to pigs because of the risk of cross contamination, even potato peelings!

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy now (feel sorry for my wife to be, we’re supposed to be getting married in a few weeks), but I seem to lack any tolerance when it comes to failing to protect our national production.  When will those with the power to implement change wake up and do something?  Maybe only once the disease enters the UK, but by then it will be too late.

Until then, fellow pig farmers; batten down the hatches, close the gates and get ready for the storm.

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