There are growing concerns in the pig industry that Defra’s strategy for tackling an African swine fever outbreak published last week has too little emphasis on measures to prevent it reaching the UK.
Entitled Disease Control Strategy for African and Classical Swine Fever in Great Britain, the paper outlines the measures that the government will take to “contain and eradicate any incursion into domestic pigs” if ASF was identified in Great Britain.
However, many within the pig industry believe that the government is missing the point.
“Whilst it is reassuring that there is a plan in place,” says journalist and pig breeder Liz Shankland, “it appears that most attention is focused on dealing with containing the disease once it gets here, not preventing its arrival.”
With the UK carrying out significant volumes of trade with European nations, the country is at high risk of ASF entry through the import of contaminated pigs and transfer of contaminated pig faeces on livestock lorries.
The disease has already spread rapidly westwards in 2014 from Russia, most recently having been discovered in domestic pig herds in Poland.
In light of the government’s inability to monitor trade traffic, pig producers believe they will be forced to take on greater responsibility in preventing the disease from coming on to farms.
“We, as an industry, have to protect ourselves and be absolutely biosecurity orientated,” states Mark Jagger, company representative for one of Britain’s largest pig producers.
“You must question everybody who turns up on farm. Do they need to go on your premises? Where have they been in the last 48 hours? Are transport lorries clean and disinfected? If they aren’t, don’t even let them drop the tailgate.”
Concerns are exacerbated by the memories of those who worked in the industry during the swine fever outbreak of 2000.
At that time Defra struggled to deal with the situation, fuelling doubts as to whether the government could cope if ASF was identified within the country – a point that Mr Jagger raised in a recent meeting with Defra officials.
“There is a village in Norfolk that holds over 200,000 pigs. If ASF hits that village what are they [Defra] going to do? How on earth do you slaughter that number of pigs? When I asked the question they simply said: ‘we will sort it out on the day’ ”.