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An ASF outbreak in the UK could cost the UK economy £45 million.
The figure – an estimate by Defra – is calculated as the cost of a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ based on an outbreak affecting 20–30 farms.
In addition, recovery of the pig industry would be compromised because of the expected need to cull British rare breed pigs for disease control purposes, heavily compromising genetic pools.
Richard Pearson, president of the Pig Veterinary Society, said incursion of the ASF virus would be ‘absolutely devastating’.
‘The ASF virus is hardy and is able to survive in an infective state in pork and pork products for a considerable time,’ he said. ‘Previous spread of ASF has been attributed to people carrying infected pork products, which are then eaten by pigs, possibly by careless disposal of food waste.’
He added: ‘This is a particular risk with wild boar gaining access to discarded infected pork products, as has been implicated in some recent European cases. The UK has an increasing population of feral wild boar which adds further risk, especially as nearly half of the UK breeding herd is housed outdoors.
‘Analysis of illegal imports in other countries has detected ASF viral DNA, indicating the potential for the virus to be spread in this way.’
Defra’s current risk assessment states: ‘At present, the EU control measures in place in the north eastern member states are being adhered to and are preventing spread within the domestic pig sector.
‘Occasional spillover events are still occurring and there is concern that given the large wild boar population and the lack of available and effective control measures for such a population (ie, vaccination) that the disease will persist in these areas.
‘Of greater concern is the area where there is a high level of backyard herds becoming infected but only few wild boar cases, which suggests different transmission pathways are involved and a general lack of biosecurity. [In the EU] only Romania is in this situation.
‘With up to ten new outbreaks reported each day, culling and testing capabilities will be stretched. Spillover into commercial pigs may occur and the slow moving nature of the infection and high infectiousness of pigs before they show clinical signs means the possibility for an infected pig entering the food chain without being identified is possible.’
If ASF were to be detected in the UK, the country would according to international veterinary protocols have to notify others.
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