New Virus Threatens UK Pig Industry

UK - HP-PRRS (Highly Pathogenic Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) is a new disease that poses as great a risk as foot-and-mouth disease.
calendar icon 20 January 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

HP-PRRS could devastate the British pig industry unless controls are tightened up. It has already hit several Asian countries, with catastrophic results, says Stephen Curtis, chairman of Yorkshire-based pig breeding company, ACMC Ltd.

He is worried that it could find its way into the UK herd through illegal import of exotic meat products.

Stephen Curtis

He said: "I have seen the effects first-hand in Cambodia – 20 to 30 per cent mortality in breeding sows, up to 100 per cent stillbirths, 80 per cent abortions and up to 100 per cent deaths in piglets. Stock boars that don't die become infertile and semen is unusable for an extended period. Six months production is lost. It could virtually destroy the UK industry."

HP-PRRS is a mutant strain of PRRS, which has made worryingly large geographic jumps – likely to be associated with trade – and is highly transmissible. UK pigs are unlikely to have immunity through cross-protection and current vaccines are not fully effective.

Mr Curtis believes that border controls are still very lax for imported meat, with only a few trained search dogs at major airports.

He said: "Live animal imports from Europe would become a greater risk if this disease moves closer to such countries as Denmark and Belgium."

He suggests that the industry should draw up its own code of practice, with processors not offering contracts to, or purchasing pigs from, producers who import animals or semen into their herds – as happens in Eire.

Untreated food waste that goes into landfill sites could also pose a risk through birds such as seagulls transporting infected meat. Mr Curtis believes swill-feeding should be re-introduced as a safer alternative. Food waste should be separated, properly treated at specially controlled processing plants then safely fed as high-quality swill. In addition to reducing the disease risk, this would be a greener alternative, he said.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome (PRRS) by clicking here.
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