African swine fever could cost UK pig industry GBP85 million

African swine fever could cost UK pig industry GBP85 million

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Government study weighs cost of potential future outbreak

If African swine fever (ASF) were to enter the United Kingdom (U.K.), it could cost as much as GBP90 million, with the pig industry bearing most of the financial burden.

Total cost of any future outbreak of ASF in the U.K. has been estimated at GBP90 million (US$112 million), with GBP85 million of those costs borne by the pig industry, according to a new government study. This estimate covers the lost value of animals from culling, movement bans and trade restrictions, reports the National Pig Association (NPA).

A further GBP5 million would be taken up by the government for disease control activities.

These estimates were described as a “reasonable worst-case scenario” by David Rutley, Under Secretary at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Costs could be much higher, he warned, depending on the scale and location of any future ASF outbreak, the husbandry system, and whether wildlife species were involved.

Based on the fact that the U.K.’s pork exports in 2018 were valued at almost GBP500 million, NPA considers the government’s assessment of the cost of an ASF outbreak to be greatly underestimated.

Informal pork imports: ASF risk

With the summer holiday season approaching its peak, visitors to the U.K. are being reminded by the government that it is forbidden to bring meat and meat products — as well as other selected foods — into the country from outside the European Union (EU).

Travelers would do well to consider carefully the risks associated with bringing any amount of pig meat products across national borders, with outbreaks of ASF across several Asian countries and South Africa. Even in the EU, ASF outbreaks have been reported in domestic pigs in central and eastern Europe. The infection is also present in wild boar in a several states, including Belgium.

“We are in the process of developing a set of communications that will be distributed across U.K. ports and airports informing people of the disease risk and asking that they do not bring personal pork imports into the U.K.,” said Rutley. “These messages will be communicated through a combination of posters, leaflets and social media.”

ASF material detected in Northern Ireland

Last week, the agriculture department in Northern Ireland (DAERA) reported finding traces of the ASF virus DNA among the 300 kilograms of illegal meat and dairy products it had seized from the luggage of incoming passengers during the month of June alone.

“The greatest risk is to our agrifood industry and our environment, as any introduction of pests, diseases and non-native species can have a potentially devastating impact,” said chief veterinary officer for Northern Ireland, Robert J. Huey. “Ecosystems can be disrupted with significant knock-on effects on agriculture and the local economy.”

DAERA stressed that the discovery of the ASF traces do not pose a significant threat to the animal health status of Northern Ireland, and it does not affect the disease-free status from ASF. However, it reinforces the importance of the controls on personal imports of meat and dairy products enforced by department officials.

The most important step producers can take to protect their pigs is to ensure that strict biosecurity measures are in place on their own farm, according to the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU).

Among the practical measures strongly recommended by the UFU are to allow only essential visitors onto the farm, and insist they wear clean or disposable clothing and footwear. No one should be allowed in if they have had recent contact with other pigs. Only cleaned and disinfected vehicles and equipment should enter the farms. Pigs and semen brought onto the farm must have a known health status. No pork products should be allowed on the farm, and no food scraps or catering waste must be fed to the pigs.

“If you keep pigs, you play an important role in preventing disease outbreaks and keeping your wider industry safe,” the UFU warns.

Asian governments impose ASF controls

Other national governments have been taking measures to ensure ASF does not enter their borders.

This month, it was reported that the Philippines had banned pork imports from Laos and North Korea.

Although there have been no disease outbreaks, Taiwan has detected the ASF virus in 11 pig carcasses that have washed up on its shores, and has passed a new law to ensure that GPS is fitted to all vehicles transporting pigs so animal movements can be traced in case of an outbreak.

View our continuing coverage of the African swine fever outbreak.