Swine fever 'a real risk'

Free-range pigs in South Canterbury. Photo: Chris Tobin
Free-range pigs in South Canterbury. Photo: Chris Tobin
Pig farmers are worried that African swine fever (AFS) will spread to New Zealand and especially to Canterbury, where 60% of the industry is located.

''ASF is a real risk,'' said NZ Pork director Helen Andrews, who farms with husband Mark at Sutherlands, near Pleasant Point, producing more than 9000 pigs per year.

Helen Andrews
Helen Andrews

''There is approximately 10% of the pork industry who farm in South Canterbury and Timaru is also home to an abattoir that processes around 40% of New Zealand's pigs and employs around 70 staff.

''The impact of an ASF outbreak would be felt particularly hard here.''

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said if the disease reached New Zealand, it could wipe out the commercial pork industry, which was worth $750 million a year.

The only option should the disease reach these shores would be to cull infected herds.

Mrs Andrews said there would also be direct consequences to South Canterbury businesses that supported the industry if this happened.

''It is also important to remember the significant role that pork plays in our diet.

''Around 25% of the protein that New Zealand consumes is made up of pork, as it is a versatile and, more importantly, affordable option for our families.''

MPI said the disease had spread through eastern Europe and more than 1.1 million animals had been culled on Chinese farms.

It had also been reported in Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Laos and North Korea. Australia was on high alert. Testing of pork products seized from mail and passenger luggage over a two-week period there found about 15% of the meat was contaminated with ASF.

An outbreak has been reported in the Philippines, heightening concerns.

''There are a number of employees [from the Philippines] on our pig farms,'' Mrs Andrews said.

''While biosecurity has a significant part to play in the daily comings and goings on farm, there has been a heightening of these procedures, particularly for those who have travelled overseas perhaps to visit family.

''The recommendation we are following at the moment is a five-day stand-down after travel.''

Mrs Andrews said NZ Pork had been working closely with MPI and developed educational campaigns, such as how to spot symptoms of ASF, for people who keep pigs, veterinarians and also hunters and trampers, as ASF had been found in wild/feral pigs in Europe.

''Leaflets including important information such as the MPI exotic pest and disease hotline (0800 80-99-66) was passed to all entrants of the Pleasant Point Hunting Competition back in June.

''While it is important that MPI continue their work at the borders, there is a part for all of us to play in keeping New Zealand safe.

''Anything the Government can do to keep our borders secure must be done.''

There have been calls for more stringent controls of imported pork from affected countries.

''It is certainly understandable that there are calls for more stringent controls of imported pork from affected countries, as our local communities rely on strong viable businesses who provide valuable food sources for New Zealand,'' Mrs Andrews said.

NZ Pork general manager David Baines said the industry was concerned that the disease could be brought into this country through contact with infected animals or even on an item of clothing and transmitted to the local pig population.

''Even if a farm only raises a handful of pigs or if a worker just comes into contact with another farm that does, our very real fear is that this devastating disease could be picked up and spread into the commercial herd with potentially devastating effects on our industry,'' Mr Baines said.

-By Chris Tobin


Measures in place to stop ASF

The Ministry of Primary Industry says the risk of African Swine Fiver (ASF) reaching New Zealand has been assessed as ''highly unlikely''.

''There are very strict measures in place to prevent this happening,'' an MPI spokesman said.

''Our protection measures include allowing no imports of live pigs, and imposing tight import conditions on any pork products.

The spokesman said fresh and frozen pork could only come from ASF-free countries or regions.

''All other pork must be cooked to kill ASF, for example canned. Any personal imports of cured pork were banned in December 2018.

''In addition, there are regulations around feeding food waste to pigs and we communicate these widely.

MPI recommends. -

  • If farmers employ international workers from overseas (for example the Philippines), they should make sure these workers have at least a five-day period here in New Zealand before starting work on the farm.
  • Farmers should provide their own farm gear and equipment for workers. Otherwise they should make sure any used farm gear and equipment, including boots and clothing, is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before use on farm.
  • If feeding food waste to pigs, it must meet New Zealand's Meat and Food Waste Regulations, which stipulate that meat and food waste must be heated to 100degC for at least an hour. Treated does work, but heated is clearer. Effectively it's treated by the heating.

Full information is at: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/3597-feeding-food-waste-to-pigs)

If unexplained pig illness or deaths occur, ring a veterinarian or Biosecurity New Zealand's hotline 0800 80 99 66.

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