Fears grow as African swine fever reaches Timor

Zach RelphCountryman
African swine fever has now been detected in East Timor. The disease has no known cure and is lethal to pigs.
Camera IconAfrican swine fever has now been detected in East Timor. The disease has no known cure and is lethal to pigs. Credit: Rebecca Turner

The swine virus leading to mass pig culls throughout Asia is now less than 730km from Australian shores.

At the weekend, the East Timor Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries confirmed 100 African swine fever outbreaks had killed 405 pigs at farms near Dili municipality.

The detection at Dili municipality, about 722km north of Darwin, is the closest ASF case to Australia since the epidemic was reported in China last August.

It comes a fortnight after South Korea revealed it was battling the highly contagious swine virus, which is not possible to vaccinate against.

The virus is not lethal to humans.

Federal Australian border forces have been bolstering biosecurity in an effort to protect the nation’s $5.3 billion pork industry from the deadly ASF.

However, pig producer Dawson Bradford told Countryman last month the Federal Government’s delays to implement a proposed $108 million-a-year biosecurity levy on shipping freight was an issue.

Mr Bradford, the WA Pork Producers Association president, said without the levy — which has missed two introduction dates — the nation remained at risk to the swine disease.

The levy is set to enforce charges of $10.02 per six-metre container and $1 a tonne for non-containerised cargo to improve exotic pest and disease detection.

In the wake of the latest ASF outbreak, Mr Dawson said the shipping levy’s “immediate implementation” was necessary to boost biosecurity surveillance.

“It is disappointing that it hasn’t been enforced yet — more surveillance is needed,” he said.

“ASF has spread south throughout Asia very quickly and unfortunately Australia is now more at risk of getting it than ever before.”

In the wake of China’s ASF outbreak in August last year, ASF has been detected in Myanmar, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Philippines, South Korea and East Timor.

According to Rabobank, the virus has wiped out about 25 per cent, or about 13 million tonnes, of China’s pork production with an estimated 200 million ASF-infected pigs culled.

Rabobank senior animal proteins for China analyst Chenjun Pan said the Asian nation would struggle to rebuild its pig herd in the aftermath of the outbreak.

“With the breeding herd down significantly we expect the herd, and subsequently pork production, to rebound a little by 2021,” she said.

“But it is likely to take three to five years for it to return anywhere near the levels seen before the outbreak.”

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