The current outbreak of African Swine Fever has already resulted in the death of more than a million pigs globally, according to a BBC programme on the disease.
The deadly and highly contagious disease doesn’t harm humans, but once it infects domestic and wild boar, almost all of them die through internal bleeding within days, the BBC World Service Food Chain programme, entitled the ‘Pig Problem’, reports.
It highlights why ASF is currently a massive concern to the EU pig industry.
This is the first time the virus has ever hit Europe’s pig farming heartland, and, with its gradual spread westwards, much of it driven by wild boar, over the past year or so, the disease was recently described by the Animal and Plant Health Agency as its main pig exotic disease concern. There are also fears the virus could reach as far east as China, a major concern for a country that contains half the world’s pigs.
With a vaccine is still years away from being available, presenter Emily Thomas interviewed various people to discuss how to prevent its spread further west and east.
These include building fences between countries, using techniques like gene editing to breed pigs that are resistant to the virus and even calling in the army to hunt down wild boar.
The origin of the current outbreak has been traced back 10 years to ‘scavenging pigs eating infected meat at a port in Georgia’. A failure to diagnose it quickly resulted in it spreading throughout Georgia, then to Russia, Chechyna and other countries in the region, an expert on the Food Chain programme said.
The risk of ASF entering the UK was raised from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ (rare but could occur) over the summer, following an increase in cases in Poland and a new hot spot of wild boar cases in the Czech Republic.
Over the few past months, new outbreaks of ASF have also been detected in Latvia, Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. It is also present in Estonia, Lithuania and Sardinia.
Some of the spread in the EU has been attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs consuming contaminated pork products from non EU countries brought in by visitors or workers.
APHA and Defra have teamed up with the pig industry to launch a campaign reminding all pig keepers of the risks of feeding waste food waste to their pigs, particularly in the context the presence of ASF in mainland Europe.
- NPA chief executive Zoe Davies was interviewed by the BBC Inside Science programme in January about the risk posed by ASF to the UK pig industry. She highlighted the growing population of feral pigs in the Forest of Dean as a potential source of spread.