NPA briefs UK pig herd on African swine fever

The NPA provides a current situation report on ASF around the world and discusses the potential impacts of an outbreak on the UK pig herd.
calendar icon 8 March 2019
clock icon 6 minute read

The most concerning is the growing feral pig population in the UK, because it is one that currently we have limited control over. The largest population resides in the Forest of Dean (see Feral Wild Boar briefing for more detail). As this population grows, the pigs are leaving the core area of the forest and entering areas frequented by humans, such as picnic sites, towns and villages. They are finding easy access to food sources, largely in domestic bins and as such could easily come into contact with discarded contaminated meat. The risk associated with ASF being identified in UK feral pigs is twofold: these animals frequently come into contact with domestic pigs on units surrounding the forest which would increase the chance of spreading the virus; plus it would be incredibly difficult to demonstrate that the disease had been successfully eradicated from the UK if it were present in feral pigs.

Secondly, 40 percent of the UK sow herd is permanently outdoors and paddocks are often near to footpaths, laybys or roads. The Classical swine fever outbreak in 2000 began in an outdoor herd situated next to a public footpath and this was thought to have been caused by a passer-by discarding contaminated meat into the paddock which the pigs gained access to. There are also many indoor pig farms that have public footpaths alongside or right through them.

Thirdly, the UK is home to a large community of smallholders and pet pig keepers that studies have shown often do not understand the risk of feeding kitchen scraps to their pigs or the fact that this activity is illegal.

Finally, there are many Eastern European workers on pig farms some of whom may well bring pigmeat product back from home without thinking. We continue to encounter a lack of understanding amongst staff in general that pork products should not be brought on farm and this includes visitors and delivery drivers.

NPA position

Whilst NPA and other industry bodies have been working with Defra and APHA on a comprehensive communications programme aimed at tackling all of the perceived vulnerabilities listed above, the key area where we have made no progress is in stepping up border controls.

We will therefore continue to insist that UK Border Force takes this issue far more seriously than it has to date and increases the level of resource dedicated to intercepting illegal imports of potentially contaminated pork, particularly from high risk countries.

We would like to see much better visible communication to passengers and lorry drivers entering the UK via ports, airports and on Eurostar about the risk of the disease and the consequence of illegally importing pork products into the UK from affected areas and discarding them in areas where pigs can gain access.

A more coordinated and effective approach to management of wild boar populations is also urgently required. NPA believes it is vital that Defra revises the currently outdated 2008 Feral Wild Boar Action plan and takes an active role in helping to shape a UK strategy for feral wild boar which includes the need for culling to reduce population sizes to manageable levels.

NPA will continue to urge pig farmers to increase their biosecurity levels in order to limit the risk of their own pigs becoming infected.

You can read the full report here.

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