African swine fever would have ‘devastating effect’ on exports

The Government has issued a warning about the impact African swine fever would have on Britain’s export industry if the disease were to come to our shores. 

While there has never been a case of the virus in the UK, fears were raised over the summer after African swine fever spread in Eastern and Central Europe. 

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), has taken the opportunity to remind pig keepers that it is illegal to feed catering waste of any description or domestic food waste to farm animals, including pigs kept as pets. 

On the Continent, some of the outbreaks of the fever have been attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs consuming contaminated pork or pork products. Defra said that other viruses, such as foot and mouth disease, could also be introduced into the UK through food products, including food from vegetarian kitchens, as there is still the risk of cross-contamination from products of animal origins such as milk.

“The introduction of African swine fever would have an enormous impact on our pig industry,” said UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

“No matter how many pigs you keep, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of feeding waste food to your animals. Not only is it illegal, but you run the risk of spreading disease which could be fatal to your livestock.”

Defra reminded keepers that strict hygiene measures are essential in preventing the spread of disease and that people should not take meat or meat products into areas where pigs are kept, and food should only be consumed in designated staff rooms or kitchens. Anybody who comes into contact with pigs should wash their hands before and after eating or preparing food.

“You can purchase a range of pig foods from your local agricultural merchant that can be safely fed to your pigs and which is the most reliable way of giving them a balanced diet,” continued Gibbens.

“Good biosecurity is also essential for minimising disease risk, such as providing dedicated clothing and boots for workers and preventing vehicles which may be contaminated from entering pig premises.”

The Government used the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 as an example of a case where illegal food waste caused the UK to suffer. It is believed the outbreak was the result of pigs being fed with catering waste containing the virus which came from outside of the UK. As a result, more than 10 million cattle and sheep were destroyed and the UK suffered the loss of millions of pounds.

Chief executive of the National Pig Association, Dr Zoe Davies, commented: “The health of our pigs is fundamentally important to our sector. A notifiable disease outbreak would not only needlessly result in the loss of many pigs and annihilate our burgeoning export markets, but would significantly impact on countless families, their staff, local businesses and tourism for months. Feeding illegal food waste, however harmless it might seem at the time, is just not worth the risk.” 

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