Britain’s classical swine fever outbreak offers lessons for ASF

A wave of classical swine fever had wide-ranging repercussions for farmers in the United Kingdom.

African swine fever landing in the U.K. would be even worse than the 2000 epidemic. The disease cost the government £4.4 million (C$7.5 million) and animals on 16 farms were culled.

“We know farmers lost a lot more,” Zoe Davies, chief executive officer of the National Pig Association in the U.K., said in a recent webinar organized by the online news service Global Meat.

U.K. pork was prohibited from being exported to China for five years.

The outbreak was caused by contaminated meat in a sandwich that was thought to have been tossed in a field of pasture-raised pigs.

Epic, the Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease based in Scotland, calculated the disease could have been in the U.K. for 40 days before it was diagnosed.

“(CASF) would be everywhere before we even knew we had it,” Davies said.

People are the greatest threat. The U.K. is a destination for students and tourists who may unknowingly bring the disease with them.

In Northern Ireland, about 300 kilograms of illegal meat products were seized in one month and some were infected with swine fever.

A recent four-day campaign at London’s Heathrow Airport with sniffer dogs targeting flights from Asia found contraband meat in passenger luggage.

If African swine fever makes the leap from Europe to Britain, farmers fear it could annihilate their industry. The disease could affect the entire pork sector, halt tourism and deplete bloodlines.

The British pork industry is worth about £1.6 billion (C$2.7 billion) at the farmgate with an export market of £400 million (C$680 million). Taking food service and retail into account, the market is worth about £5 billion(C$8.5 billion).

The industry consists of 409,000 sows and about five million other hogs, mostly on the eastern side of the country. About 40 percent of British sows live outdoors, which poses a big biosecurity risk, said Davies.

Many British operations are hobby farms but 94 percent of production comes from 2,200 quality-assured farms.

The U.K. ships about £80 million (C$136 million) worth to China, which adds an extra £46 (C$78) per pig.

The pork producers association and the Animal Health Development Board launched a #MuckFreeTruck campaign to encourage more thorough washing of trucks and trailers by livestock haulers and dead stock collectors.

The U.K. doesn’t have wild boar but a large population of wild pigs that escaped from farms exists. They are considered a disease reservoir.

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