Backyard pig production remains ASF worry

British Columbia develops a production manual to help inform the province’s estimated 1,200 small hog producers

There are more than 7,000 “small-lot” pig producers in Canada, those who operate outside the commercial system.

Their number and level of activity or knowledge regarding biosecurity are concerns for those involved in preventing African swine fever from entering the country and controlling it if it does.

The illness has devastated hog populations in Asia and Eastern Europe in recent years. It is fatal to pigs and there is no vaccine or treatment.

Dr. Egan Brockhoff, a swine veterinarian and key player in Canada’s work on ASF prevention and response, said small lot producers have no shared quality assurance program or industry representation. That’s a contrast to the country’s approximately 8,000 commercial producers, who belong to the Canadian Pork Council and are part of its quality assurance program that audits food safety, animal welfare and other production elements.

“African swine fever, as we look around the world and see how it continues to devastate countries, it is a real challenge for small lot pork producers,” Brockhoff told an Oct. 28 session organized by the Alberta Farm Writers Association.

“It is a challenge for all pork producers but if we look throughout Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, there’s no question that backyard production, small lot producers, have different biosecurity at their sites and so the disease has moved more freely.”

ASF devastated the hog herd in China starting in 2018. The Pig Site said key factors in its rapid spread included swill feeding, feed materials, contaminated pork products and pig transport vehicles, among other factors.

BC Pork and the British Columbia government have developed a small lot pork production management and production manual to help inform that province’s estimated 1,200 small hog producers. B.C. has only 15 commercial producers, Brockhoff said.

Other provincial pork associations have also developed online resources for smaller-scale producers. Many of them warn about another concern Brockhoff identified in his talk: feeding kitchen waste to pigs.

It is illegal to feed meat products to pigs. Kitchen waste, fruits and vegetables may have been in contact with infected meat and thus spread illness to pigs that eat the material.

Section 112 of the Health of Animals Act reads: “No person shall feed meat, meat byproducts or food that is suspected to contain meat or meat byproducts to swine or poultry, or permit swine or poultry to have access to meat or byproducts.”

Brockhoff showed a few examples of social media responses to warnings about that prohibition, which indicate some people don’t abide by those rules or agree with the reasoning behind them.

However, feeding meat to pigs was the cause of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Canada in the early 1950s.

There is ongoing evidence of reckless behaviour among people who transport meat in luggage or send it by mail. In doing so, they potentially jeopardize a $24 billion Canadian industry.

Canadian Border Services and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have undertaken prominent messaging about it, and a failure to declare meat at customs or international border crossings can net a $1,300 fine.

However, Brockhoff said border agents continue to apprehend travellers carrying meat even during this pandemic-induced reduction in travel.

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