By Peter Crichton

SIGNS are emerging that classical swine fever (CSF) – which broke out in Norfolk on 8 August – is running riot.

Since then a total approaching 50,000 pigs has been slaughtered on farms in Norfolk and Suffolk.

These include six breeding herds and over 20 rearing and finishing herds, with a value exceeding 2.25 million.

At this stage, the majority of the affected herds have been classified as DC (Dangerous Contacts) with the balance as IP (Infected Premises).

A team of over 160 State Veterinary Service vets are now based in Bury St Edmunds to deal with tracing, identification, slaughter procedures, and cleaning and disinfection of affected farms.

However, because the incubation period of this strain of the virus is much longer than the normal 5-15 days and can exceed 30 days, it is hard for vets to be certain that previously “clean” farms are not contaminated.

Re-tests are being carried out, adding to the time the whole process is taking.

Although some of the original surveillance zones have been lifted, pig movements in the region are still greatly restricted with an estimated 100,000-plus pigs held up.

Further problems have been caused for producers by the widespread use of Form A and Form B procedures which are served on any premises that may be at risk.

This can be as a result of tracings of vehicle or personnel movements from suspect premises and will effectively “lock up” the affected farms for a further 56 days or longer.

As predicted, a series of MRA (Movement Restricted Areas) have been put into place to prevent pig movements within a 10km zone of any farm where CSF is suspected, while blood test results are awaited.

Many East Anglian producers now fear that the whole region could be hit with blanket movement restrictions if CSF continues to spread.

This could lead to further increases in on-farm pig numbers, many of which are already overstocked and facing animal welfare and cash crisis problems.

The troubled Welfare Slaughter Scheme is now under way and helping to reduce numbers on some units where all movements have been prohibited since early August.

However, because the compensation payments for pigs slaughtered under the scheme falls well below current market value, producers are only booking in pigs as a last resort.

They claim that unless full market value is paid, numbers will continue to pile up on farms.

According to vets this will provide a ready opportunity for CSF to spread through emergency outdoor straw bale pens where birds and vermin are reported to becoming a major problem.

The weight band related price structure of the scheme has also been heavily criticised.

Pigs under 95kg will only attract a 35/head payment which is half the market price.

Producers claim that a floating p/kg system would allow them to clear pens of smaller pigs from bulging grower pens, rather than holding back all except those pigs which average over 110kg to claim the full 75 payment.