UK pig industry on high alert as swine fever detected in Belgium

The virus in Belgium brings African swine fever closer to the UK
The virus in Belgium brings African swine fever closer to the UK

African swine fever has now been confirmed in four wild boar in Belgium raising fears the deadly virus could pose a major threat to the UK.

African swine fever (ASF) has been detected in the Etalle district near the French border.

The finding brings ASF closer to the UK and highlights how the virus can be moved long distances to reach new pig populations.

There is no effective vaccine to protect swine from the disease. And, while the disease poses no direct threat to human health, outbreaks can be devastating with the most virulent forms lethal in 100 percent of infected animals.

The National Pig Association (NPA) said the news is "very concerning" as it represents a big jump geographically.

NPA chief executive, Zoe Davies said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure the virus does not reach the UK pig herd. Our approach is 3 pronged.

“The first messaging to all pig keepers to ensure they are doing all they can to keep the disease out, for example, biosecurity on farm, being aware of any visitors that might have been to infected areas and, of course, reinforcing the message about not feeding food waste or any pork products to pigs.

“We are also urging producers to prepared for the worst and think about contingency planning, if the virus does make it here, which will result in movement bans and other restrictions,” Ms Davies said.

Feeding feral pigs

The pig industry are working with Defra to increase messaging to public about not feeding feral pigs or leaving rubbish near where they may be active.

They are also warning people coming to the UK from elsewhere about the risks of bringing in meat products and proper handling.

Lastly, the NPA are putting pressure on government to manage the risks better and work with UK Border Force to increase messaging at entry points to the UK, mainly ports and airports.

Ms Davies added: “Our focus is on making sure we do absolutely everything we can to keep the virus out – the consequences of ASF reaching our pig herd are enormous, but it will only take one mistake to let it in.

“We also want to ensure we are fully prepared, so we will be ready should the worst scenario happen.”

If the disease were to reach the UK it would have a devastating effect on the export market and would also mean the humane culling of pigs on infected premises to prevent further spread.