UK ASF warning as virus spreads in wild boars in Italy

Concerns are being raised in the UK following the discovery of ASF in dozens of wild boars in northern Italy
Concerns are being raised in the UK following the discovery of ASF in dozens of wild boars in northern Italy

The introduction of African swine fever in the UK would have a 'detrimental impact' on the pig sector, the government has warned following outbreaks in Italy.

The deadly pig disease, already present in a number of countries across western and eastern Europe, has been spreading in wild boars in northern Italy.

Authorities there are now moving toward a cull of up to 8,000 pigs following discovery of ASF in 29 wild boar carcasses, according to veterinary institute ISZUM.

It comes after the disease was recently detected in domestic pigs in Germany, along with outbreaks in Belgium, Romania, and Poland.

Asian countries – including major pig producing countries such as China and Vietnam – have also been hit hard, with millions of pigs culled.

The risk of an incursion to the UK has been assessed as 'medium' by government scientists, but concern is growing over its spread in northern Italy.

While there has never been a case of ASF in the UK or Ireland, and there is no human health risk with the disease, it is easily transmitted in pork products.

UK legislation states that feeding farmed animals with catering waste or feed material containing, or derived from catering waste, is illegal. Doing so can result in prosecution.

Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, Edwin Poots said the introduction of the disease in the UK would have a 'detrimental impact' on the domestic pork sector.

"It could have a devastating effect on export markets and would also require the humane culling of pigs on infected premises to prevent further spread," the minister warned.

"I stress the need of maintaining a high level of biosecurity, make sure that your pigs do not access any kitchen waste, only feed your pigs a purchased pig ration and to remain vigilant for signs of disease for early detection of the disease.”

The government says good biosecurity practices including strict hygiene measures are essential in preventing the disease.

People should not take meat or meat products into areas where pigs are kept and should only eat food in designated areas such as staff rooms or the farm kitchen.

Pig keepers, farm staff and anyone in contact with pigs should also wash their hands before and after eating or preparing food.

Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer, Robert Huey added: “No matter how many pigs you keep, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of feeding waste food to your animals.

"Not only is it illegal, but you run the risk of spreading disease which could be fatal to your livestock."