The deadly virus which has claimed one quarter of the world’s pig population is now perilously close to our northern border.
A disease that has wreaked havoc and caused mass devastation to the global pig population, has now spread from China to other parts of Asia, including the Philippines, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and now Timor-Leste. Outbreaks of African Swine Fever also continue to be reported in eastern Europe as the deadly spread shows no signs of slowing.
ASF is reported to have already wiped out a quarter of the world’s pigs, and the risk of it infecting pigs in other countries in Asia and elsewhere remains a serious threat. The disease is known to kill about 80 percent of animals which become infected.
Following the confirmation of 100 reported outbreaks of ASF in smaller pig holdings from Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Australia’s Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie on Wednesday requested sniffer dogs be urgently flown to the Top End in a desperate attempt to stop the disease from entering Australian borders. Prior to this, no sniffer dogs were operating at Darwin International Airport.
The main threat to Australia comes in the form of cooked pork as it can remain infectious for up to two years.
Biosecurity staff around the country have intercepted 27 tonnes of undeclared pork in the past year alone.
Margo Andrae, CEO of Australian Pork Limited said, “the worst case scenario is it wipes out the entire pig production here in Australia” when asked about the looming threat of it entering our borders.
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the Government is taking the threat seriously.
“We’ve got 2,700 pork producers, we’ve got 34,000 Australians who have a job because of our pig industry. It imposes an extreme risk to us. We’re not taking anything for granted,” Ms McKenzie said.
Ms McKenzie also emphasised that Australia’s feral pig population presents a “significant risk.
“That’s how we’ve seen this disease spread so quickly throughout the world. Pork producers have quite stringent biosecurity regimes on-farm… but it is absolutely that feral pig population, which is endemic in Queensland, the NT and NSW as well, that’s how it gets spread very easily.”
Ms Andrae agreed that feral pigs could undermine control efforts.
“The benefit Australia has is that we have on farm biosecurity so we could try and contain it. But the other thing we have is a wild pig herd- if it got into that, that would be detrimental as well because it’s about five times the size of our production.”
Australian Pork Limited has released a statement calling for all producers and keepers of pigs to review their on-farm biosecurity and to develop an emergency animal disease survival plan, following the news of ASF in Timor-Leste, 650km from Australia’s border.
It was also announced on Wednesday that veterinary officers from the Department of Agriculture were travelling to Timor-Leste to provide assistance.
“Our vets will assist local authorities to identify the distribution or spread of the disease,” a spokesperson for the Department has said.
The effects of ASF are beginning to permeate through Asian economies too.
Rabobank Global Strategist for Animal Protein, Justin Sherrard said, “we expect to see herd and production losses growing as we move into 2020.
“At the same time, price levels in China – for pigs and pork, as well as for the other proteins – keep climbing, and China’s structural shortage of protein is becoming clearer.”
The record price levels prove just how difficult the issue is going to be to resolve, as it is expected to create inflation challenges in China.
Rabobank released a report last Friday into ASF, which cites- “high prices also trigger market inventions by authorities to maintain availability and affordability of animal protein. These are not the stable market conditions that will best support a structural response to ASF.”
For now, all that producers can do is remain hypervigilant about their on-farm biosecurity, and the Australia public remain just as vigilant about what they, or their friends and family, bring into the country.