28 September 2000
MAFF plays down sandwich theory

By FWi staff

REPORTS that the outbreak of swine fever has been traced to a single pig which ate an infected ham sandwich have been played down by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Newspapers reports say a single free-range pig living beside a footpath on a farm at Quidenham, Norfolk, was responsible for the outbreak in East Anglia.

The sow, known as 847Y, was moved indoors last June after eight of her piglets died.

But within a month, the sow and the remaining piglets had died and the disease had spread to other pigs and beyond the farm.

The ham-sandwich link emerged because the strain of swine fever is identical to the strain identified in outbreaks in Switzerland in 1992 and Austria in 1993.

These were found to have been caused by boar meat imported from China.

Ramblers using the footpath where the pig lived could have dropped the sandwich, or fed it to the animal deliberately.

But a MAFF spokeswoman said while all indications were that the source of the outbreak was a pork product, this scenario was too specific.

She said: “We have eliminated most possible sources of the infection and are left with the conclusion that the only likely cause is a pork product.

“But were not saying it was a pork pie or sandwich or whatever.”

Nor did the ministry claim to have identified an individual pig as the source of the outbreak, said the spokeswoman.

She said the infection had been traced back to a particular group of pigs, but could not specify which animal.

The story arose from comments made by a government epidemiologist at a meeting with National Pig Association representatives.

It appeared that people went away from that and took the comments more specifically than intended, said the MAFF spokeswoman

The outbreak of swine fever has hit 14 farms, resulted in movement restrictions on hundreds of others, and cost the lives of 35,000 pigs.

The last outbreak of swine fever in the UK was in 1986. It may have been started by a pig which ate an infected ham sandwich discarded by a motorist.