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Pig keepers warned of African swine fever risk

Norfolk pigs. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk pigs. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

East Anglia’s pig keepers have been warned not to feed kitchen scraps or food waste to their animals, to prevent outbreaks of potentially-fatal livestock diseases.

The risk level of African swine fever entering Britain for the first time was raised during the summer following the disease’s spread in Eastern and Central Europe. Although there has never been a case in the UK and it does not affect humans, it is potentially fatal to pigs.

If the disease were to reach this country it would damage export markets, prompt the culling of animals on infected premises, and potentially have a devastating effect on businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk, where a large proportion of the nation’s pigs are reared.

As some of the outbreaks in Europe were attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs eating contaminated pork products, the UK’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens reminded farmers that it is illegal to feed catering or domestic food waste to farm animals, including pigs kept as pets.

“The introduction of African swine fever would have an enormous impact on our pig industry,” he said. “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.

“Good biosecurity is also essential for minimising disease risk, such as providing dedicated clothing and boots for workers and preventing vehicles which may be contaminated from entering pig premises.

“The UK suffered the consequences of pigs being fed illegal waste food in the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in 2001. That outbreak is thought to have originated from pigs being fed catering waste containing the virus, which came from outside the UK.”

Defra also reiterated that strict hygiene measures are essential in preventing 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 wash their hands before and after eating or preparing food.

National Pig Association chief executive Dr Zoe Davies added: “The health of our pigs is fundamentally important to our sector. A notifiable disease outbreak would not only needlessly result in the loss of many pigs and annihilate our burgeoning export market, but would significantly impact on countless families, their staff, local businesses and tourism for months. Feeding illegal food waste, however harmless it might seem at the time, is just not worth the risk.”

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