Why we need to educate the public about ASF

Duncan Berkshire is one of the lead vets within the five-vet pig team at Bishopton Veterinary Group, based in Yorkshire

As we look towards a warmer, drier period and the dusting off of BBQs finally, to fuel an increase in UK pork demand, a lot of thoughts turn to what impact that will have on the pig price.

China also continues to suffer with ASF in its national herd, with large numbers of pigs being culled from their breeding herd and the subsequent loss of production. This potentially gives a huge opportunity for exporting pork products to the Chinese market, a fact that is not lost on many producers as questions over the pig price continue to circulate during discussions.

That all faded into the background, however, when I opened an email with pictures attached from a pig paddock containing kitchen waste that had been discovered by a manager that morning – my mouth fell open!

We must remember that any potential increase in exports that we have on the horizon do depend on us keeping ASF (and any other notifiable disease) out of our national herd. This sounds like a no-brainer and yet the general public’s poor knowledge and the impact that they themselves could have by their careless actions still astounds me.

In this case, the stockmen swiftly cleared up the discarded food and it would appear that none of it was eaten by the sows. The incident was reported to Defra and APHA and the farm is under active surveillance and movement restrictions, hopefully to be declared clear by the time this hits print.

This formal reporting and surveillance is totally the correct thing to do and gives us the best chance of making sure that nothing has entered the herd, both locally and nationally.

It also proved how important it is to have that ‘contingency plan’ ready to roll if movement restrictions are put in place for whatever reason.

This episode looks like it originated from a local pub looking to ‘help out’ by feeding the pigs their waste food, despite the presence of signs asking them not to be fed. A visit to enquire about the origin of the food certainly didn’t get anything more than denials, although, magically, no more has appeared since…

That risk is not just restricted to commercial herds being exposed of course, with a recent Liverpool study of smallholdings showing that 24% of owners fed kitchen waste to their pigs – and those were just the ones who owned up to doing it!

The education of the general public and these smallholders via social media and the current campaign being spearheaded by APHA is so important. I would certainly encourage everyone to make a point of trying to get the message across to any smallholders whenever you have the opportunity.

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