Farmer Focus: African swine fever would devastate the UK

In May, I did an interview with BBC Radio Gloucestershire about the feral boar population in the Forest of Dean and what it means in terms of the threat African swine fever (ASF) poses to the UK. 

ASF hasn’t been seen in the UK before, but it is a notifiable disease that often causes 100% fatality.

Recently it has spread west from Russia and Georgia at an alarming rate as far as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Wild boar and possibly the illegal movement of infected pigs or feeding of infected pork/pork products have been spreading it.

As an island we are protected somewhat, but the disease can be transmitted easily in pork products and on vehicle wheels or clothes. 

See also: Guide to biosecurity measures to keep pigs disease-free

The population of “wild” boar in the Forest of Dean is thought to be well in excess of 1,000 and is principally a cross-breed of a more commercial pig and wild boar.

Feral boar having access to BBQ meat and leftover picnics is a major concern in tourist areas.  

An outbreak of ASF in the UK would be devastating – not only for the farms affected, but to the UK pig industry as a whole. 

The UK pork export market, which is worth £345m, would be shut down immediately. Last time we had a classical swine fever outbreak it took 10 years for China – our second-largest export market – to let us back in.

It would probably be easier to get back into the EU, but after Brexit, who knows? Also, to get back into these export markets we have to be able to prove we are free from ASF. If ASF is circulating in feral wild boar, this could be impossible.

The NPA has been collaborating with Mark Harper MP (Forest of Dean) and the Deer Initiative to present a case to the AHDB for co-funding for a dedicated resource; possibly in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, to provide a co-ordinated effort to reduce the feral boar population to more manageable levels that do not facilitate the easy harbourage of disease.

Being less than 20 miles from the Forest of Dean, this is a real concern for us and other pig farmers in the area.