Australia on alert as swine fever spreads

Zach RelphCountryman
African swine fever has continued to spread in China and neighbouring countries.
Camera IconAfrican swine fever has continued to spread in China and neighbouring countries. Credit: Danella Bevis

The deadly swine virus sweeping through eastern Asia, leading to the death of almost one million Chinese pigs, could potentially derail Australia’s pork sector if it infiltrates the nation’s borders, industry figures warn.

African swine fever, a contagious viral disease lethal to pigs, continues to rattle the global market as it spreads across China, with about 950,000 pigs reportedly culled since about August last year.

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has heightened awareness in a bid to safeguard Australian pork producers from the potentially catastrophic threat after the Chinese outbreak.

Since December, ASF has been detected in 46 pork products seized by DAWR officials at international airports and mail processing centres in Australia through a screening and testing blitz.

Australian Pork general manager of policy Deb Kerr told Countryman ASF, which has no known vaccination, would have drastic ramifications on the country’s export markets if detected.

Ms Kerr said bolstering biosecurity was key to combating the virus, with industry and government preparing for a possible battle.

“Industry is looking at preparedness for an incursion, but we do hope we never use it,” she said.

“If ASF was detected in Australia, our export markets would immediately close and it would create pressure for the entire supply chain.

“The only way to prevent the disease is biosecurity, which is better than the only way to control the disease — culling pigs — because there is no vaccination or cure.”

ASF has also been detected south of China in Vietnam, with more than 46,600 pigs killed across 366 outbreaks since February.

WA Pork Producers Association president Dawson Bradford said the contagious disease had the capacity to “wipe out Australia’s export markets overnight”, also citing concerns about it spreading into feral boar populations.

“It would be a huge problem if it was found here and then got into the wild pig population,” he said.

“It can be controlled in the domestic market, but it’d be near-impossible to eradicate in the wild.”

Meat and Livestock Australia global analyst Tim Ryan noted that China’s estimated sow stocks declined 5 per cent last month.

It marked a 20 per cent decrease in China’s sow inventory compared to the same time last year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr Ryan said China’s drop in pork production would have widespread impacts on the global meat trade.

“As product in China cold stores is run down, and a reduced sow population and elevated culling hit production, the market may begin to show a more marked reaction as the year progresses,” he said.

“ASF will continue to be a critical driver of world meat markets in 2019 and 2020.”

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