African swine fever outbreak in Australia could cost $2.5 billion to eradicate

Aidan SmithCountryman
Feral pigs are a huge problem as their numbers are out of control, NSW farmers say.
Camera IconFeral pigs are a huge problem as their numbers are out of control, NSW farmers say. Credit: AAP

An outbreak of African swine fever in Australia’s feral pig population could cost the nation more than $2.5 billion in a worst case scenario, according to a new report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

Australia has an estimated two to four million feral pigs across the country and there are ongoing concerns that ASF could make its way into the population and cross over into the domestic herd and cause up to $263m, for a small scale eradication program, and between $439m-$2.5b for a 30 year program.

Early last year it was estimated that there was a 21 per cent chance of an ASF detection in Australia in the next five years.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the ABARES report, Potential economic consequences of African swine fever in Australia, which was released last month, was a timely reminder of the importance of keeping Australia’s biosecurity system strong and resourced appropriately.

“A small-scale outbreak in domestic pigs would cost the Australian pig industry between $117m and $263m to manage and eradicate,” Mr Watt said.

“The worst-case scenario, where ASF becomes endemic in our feral pig population, would cost the industry between $439m and $2.54b over 30 years.

“This would mean lost trade for our exports and higher costs for farmers as they manage biosecurity.”

Australia has a small pig herd of 270,000 head, compared with other nations, 90 per cent of which are covered under the Australia pork industry quality assurance program, APIQ.

WA is reported to have about 35,000 breeding sows, with an industry worth $180m.

It exports a high volume to pork to Singapore.

Most of the pigs in WA, not unlike the rest of Australia, are concentrated in the hands of a few producers, but the majority of pig producers, while they have fewer pigs, have less stringent biosecurity protocols in place.

The report said the location of an outbreak in Australia and the number of jurisdictions involved was expected to have a direct impact on costs through effects on export sales, which would be particularly damaging to the WA market.

Because of “the large value and high volume of exports from WA to Singapore, it means that an ASF outbreak in WA is expected to have a much greater impact on expected market closures (32 per cent in the first year) compared to other jurisdictions (17 to 19 per cent)“.

Australian Pork Limited chief executive Margo Andrae said 90 per cent of Australian pork production was retained domestically and an ASF breach would severely impact the industry’s ability to contribute to food security.

“Our producers are already working hard to protect their farms and this current understanding of the ongoing impacts of the disease threat is paramount,” Ms Andrae said.

The Federal Government allocated $134m to biosecurity funding in the last Budget and was also developing a model for sustainable funding to ensure Australia maintained strong biosecurity into the future.

ASF has no vaccine and kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects, but it poses no threat to human health.

The disease is estimated to have killed more than 350 million pigs across the world in 2019 and caused a 12 per cent contraction of the global pig herd.

In 2018, ASF spread into China, before it rapidly spread through the Asia-Pacific region.

There have been outbreaks in Vietnam last year and the disease has been detected in Timor-Leste in September 2019 and late in 2021, and Papua New Guinea in March 2020.

While Australia is free from ASF, the presence of the disease in neighbouring countries and ongoing arrivals of goods and passengers from ASF infected countries, poses a high risk of the virus being introduced to Australia.

Since 2007, only three countries have successfully eradicated the disease in wild pigs — Belgium, Estonia and the Czech Republic — and only Belgium has eradicated the disease in domestic pigs.

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