Voluntary charter could help prevent further pig disease outbreaks

Norfolk pigs. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk pigs. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Pig industry leaders have urged more producers to sign up to a voluntary disease charter which helped identify an outbreak of swine dysentery on a Norfolk farm.

The infection, confirmed last month, had not been found in East Anglia during the previous two years.

It is not compulsory to notify it to animal health authorities, but as the producer had voluntarily signed up to the Significant Disease Charter, nearby farms have been notified to increase their biosecurity measures while action is taken to eradicate the outbreak.

The charter was launched by sector levy board AHDB Pork in April – an extension of the earlier swine dysentery charter, which now also includes measures to control porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus (PEDv).

PEDv has had a damaging impact on US herds and sector leaders fear it could spell disaster for the UK pig industry if it arrived in this country, so steps are being taken to provide a co-ordinated response.

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The aim of the charter is to encourage the voluntary sign-up of producers to share information quickly which will make disease control faster and more effective.

AHDB veterinary team manager Martin Smith said: 'If you have any outbreak the other members will have a notification of the area in which that applies. It will tell you what kind of disease has occurred, so you can increase surveillance of your own animals. You know which symptoms you will need to be looking for, and if you are in close proximity, you can ramp up your biosecurity measures.

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'The whole point of the charter is for people to safeguard their business. If you are part of the charter you can get quick and up-to-date information on the disease status in your region, and it allows you to minimise your potential losses and protect yourselves from the disease coming on to your farm.'

Mr Smith said although it carries no health risk to the human food chain, swine dysentery can be financially devastating for pig businesses.

It is spread through the ingestion of infected faeces and may enter the farm through the introduction of carrier pigs or from infected material carried on equipment, boots or birds.

Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, also urged more producers to sign up to the charter. She said: 'The charter is voluntary, so we cannot make people be open about reporting swine dysentery when they have got it.

'But in this case in Norfolk, the farmer in question is doing everything he can to prevent any spread. He had already signed up to the charter and informed us that the disease is there, and he is doing something about it. He should be congratulated by the pig industry for being responsible and saying he has got an issue.'

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