Defra: Africian Swine Fever has a 20% chance of reaching the UK

African Swine Fever has a 20% chance of reaching the UK’s pig population, according to Government officials.

The shocking admission was made in a risk assessment report demonstrating the potential impact of the disease on the UK pork industry.

Officials rated the probability of an outbreak as ‘medium’ and estimated the economic cost of an outbreak could be as high as £70 million, with £45 million estimated to the most likely cost.

Transmission pathways

Some of the biggest threats were poor biosecurity in ‘backyard’ pig herds and the illegal importation of meat products – such as by tourists or foreign workers.

Animal feed transport vehicles visiting multiple farms and shared farm equipment were also seen as some of the other most significant risk factors.

Officials highlighted that the Red Tractor scheme, which covers around 92% of UK pig farms, ensures that most commercial farms will have good biosecurity.

It said small ‘backyard’ pig herds were the most likely to become infected due to lower biosecurity levels; however, it was also stated that as there was a low level of contact between such herds and commercial herds, this was unlikely to pose a major threat to the UK pork industry.

Should the disease reach the UK, the potential costs were estimated to be as low as £35 million but as high as £70 million assuming the between 20 and 30 farms were affected.

It was stated that an outbreak reaching 30 farms would be a “reasonable worst-case scenario”.

The estimation includes the cost of loss of livestock and Government costs of control.

Social impacts listed include the effect on community cohesion and animal welfare; and a loss of public confidence in the UK pig industry.

The report was compiled in November but only made public earlier this month.

African swine fever is a highly contagious and usually fatal viral disease of pigs. It does not affect humans and meat from pigs does not pose any food safety risk. There is no treatment for the fever in pigs and there is no vaccine currently available.

The disease can be transmitted on vehicles, clothing and in food. It is particularly difficult to control as it is not killed in the curing process meaning it can be spread through many sausage products.

The disease can also be spread through wild boar populations.