All pig farmers should complete African swine fever (ASF) contingency plans to limit the damage caused when the disease hits British herds, the National Pig Association (NPA) has warned.
The NPA is about to release a contingency plan template to help fast-track the process and has urged members to complete it immediately.
We look at why you should have a plan in place and what should be in it.
Why have a contingency plan?
Essex pig farmer and Young NPA vice-chairman Jack Bosworth stresses its importance.
“ASF has spread westwards into 15 countries across Europe. It is no longer a case of if, but, when, the disease arrives in the UK and we must be ready,” says Mr Bosworth.
Mr Bosworth has carried out a plan for his 540-sow breeder-feeder herd at his family’s Spains Hall Farm near Chelmsford.
He adds that as well as aiding authorities, the exercise itself had highlighted areas that needed attention and brought home the sheer scale of the possible impact.
Senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale adds that having structured plans available when an outbreak starts will help cut response times by the authorities to a minimum .
On-farm, having a contingency plan for staff to follow would also save crucial time and reduce the chance of disease spread, Ms Veale explains.
“And yet, many farmers still do not have contingency plans in place and are unaware of the difficulties they may face,” she adds.
Mr Bosworth and Ms Veale explain the key elements that should be considered and documented within a contingency plan.
1. Business location details
The first step is to name the person who holds the contingency plan and any information that will help authorities identify the farm location.
Not just the address but the:
- Holding number
- Grid reference
- What3words location
Having an accurate location will prevent any confusion, allowing officials to alert others and put in place restrictions more quickly.
2. Key contacts
Being able to contact all the right people quickly is a vital step in containing the disease.
The plan should have a comprehensive list of important landlines, mobile numbers and email addresses to raise the alarm when an infection is suspected.
It’s important to think broadly about who might be affected and who should be prioritised.
For example, the farm vet’s emergency line to report symptoms and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) are obviously key.
These will mobilise testing procedures and begin restrictions. But others may not spring to mind without a list to work from.
Hauliers, feed suppliers or consultants that may be scheduled or have visited recently must all be informed.
Likewise, local authorities, key workers, family members, neighbours, friends and other delivery workers are all important.
3. Map the farm
Authorities will require an accurate picture of the farm to start containing the disease. Gathering this information once an infection has been found could lead to crucial delays, as agency workers begin procedures to contain the disease.
Detailed information about feed stores, slurry storage, housing and other buildings, such as staff accommodation around the farm, should be mapped.
This should include precise locations, dimensions, distances between buildings and the access routes available.
Open areas should be detailed, including surface types to identify their suitability for handling stock or siting equipment.
Drainage and run-off must also be mapped to contain the category-one hazardous waste created by culling and disinfection.
Footpaths or other access must be identified for authorities to shut down or restrict public movement.
4. Protocol for disease outbreak
Central to an effective plan is an established chain of command. Anybody suspecting ASF should know who to alert immediately.
This chain should be driven home and written into the plan, so anyone knows without doubt what to do next.
The protocol on finding ASF symptoms at Spains Hall Farm includes:
- Stockperson reports symptoms to Mr Bosworth
- He informs vet and takes advice on contacting APHA
- Emergency meeting for all staff where contingency plan becomes live
5. Veterinary records and stock numbers
The plan must detail exactly where stock are located and precise numbers. It must also identify where previous movement and production records are kept.
This will be used to help trace when the disease may have first arisen, through raised mortality rates.
6. Tracing movements
All movements and links to the business will have to be traced. The contingency plan should clearly identify contact details of every visitor.
This can be handed to agency workers to begin tracing anyone that could have moved the disease on to or off the premises. The workers will also want to see evidence of what hygiene measures have been in place.
7. Movement restrictions and stocking pressures
The plan needs to address the huge impact of movement restrictions. This applies whether the farm is infected and culled out, or placed within a movement-restriction zone.
Two zones will be enforced: a 3km-radius protection zone around each infected farm and a 10km-wide surveillance zone. These will be in place for at least 40 days and there are no derogations within the tougher protection zone.
If the disease breaks out in clusters, the time period will continue to be extended until 40 days after the last case. This will put farm storage and housing under severe strain on units that are not culled out.
Waste levels and stock numbers will swell as farrowing continues.
The plan must calculate how much pressure the additional pig numbers will put on slurry storage and accommodation and whether extra facilities should be put in place.
Practical details of how suitable areas could be converted into temporary accommodation should be set out.
For example, can areas be penned off in fields using bales or are there buildings that could be converted to housing?
8. Seasonal changes
Different weather will create the need for flexibility across the whole plan. Wet, cold winter weather may render some parts of the farm unsuitable for temporary accommodation, and alternative strategies should be documented.
Higher rainfall would put further pressure on slurry storage and this should be added to calculations. The implications will also differ for other enterprises such as arable operations, which would be harder hit if the disease struck during heavy workloads.
9. Other enterprises
The plan should also cover how other enterprises on the farm could be affected and consider how these might operate. For example, at Spains Hall Farm, the 270ha arable area could struggle if machinery and equipment movements were curtailed.
Alternative plans for grain lorries and tractor access must be thought through. Likewise, rental property on the farm will be affected.
It is important to establish what restrictions will be placed on the movement of tenants whose lives are not directly linked to the unit.
While primary cleaning and culling are carried out and paid for by the APHA, secondary cleaning is not. This is a major undertaking and presents a huge cost to the farm.
On a slatted unit such as Spains Hall, every piece of flooring, the slurry channels and all drainage must be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned.
Dirty water disposal must also be factored into the plan, with holding tanks required to prevent contaminated liquid polluting watercourses or reinfecting stock.
The plan should consider what options are available.
One option is not to carry out secondary cleaning and disinfection. In this case, the site must close with no pigs at all for 12 months.
Plans for the workforce and financial viability should be made in this case.
An alternative is to restock after six months, providing secondary cleaning has been carried out and was signed off by the APHA.
A third option is to have the secondary cleaning and disinfection signed-off by the APHA and to restock inside the six-month period with a sentinel herd.
A sentinel herd is a smaller number of pigs, which is subjected to rigorous monitoring and testing to ensure the disease is no longer present.
ASF is a notifiable disease and any suspicion must be reported to the APHA immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.
In Wales, call 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.
More on African Swine Fever
Get the latest news about ASF and what you can do to prevent the virus entering your farm with the Pig Progress African Swine Fever information hub.