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Taking precautions

Outbreaks of pig diseases have always had a significant impact on trade flows within the global pig meat market. Following the recent spread of ASF and PEDv in global markets, the Danish industry has responded by stepping up its precautionary measures to minimise the risk of new diseases entering Denmark.

Any discussion about the global market for pig meat in recent months has been prefaced by consideration of its vulnerability to outbreaks of pig diseases.

African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly contagious disease of domestic and wild pigs, of all breeds and ages, has traditionally been endemic on the African continent, with 27 countries reporting the presence of ASF since 2005. A new outbreak was reported in Russia in 2007 and the disease has subsequently spread widely within the Russian continent – latterly to two EU Member States, Poland and Lithuania, where it was detected in the wild boar population. ASF has had significant effects on the domestic pig industry in Russia due to widespread slaughter of healthy animals in attempts to limit its spread.

The discovery of ASF in Poland and Lithuania led to a ban on all exports of EU pig meat to Russia, where the meat industry had been major purchasers of Collars, shoulders, fat and trimmings.

The spread of the porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus (PEDv) in North America during the last year, and more recently in SE Asia, will have a material effect on pork supplies. EU pig meat exporters have enjoyed a good market in Asia this year and there is no doubt that declining availability of pigs and the US and Japan, in particular, has been a factor here.

As Denmark is a major pig meat exporter, it is vital that all necessary precautions are taken to prevent any new pig disease entering the country. ASF has never been reported in Denmark. Strict biosecurity, both internal and external, has a long tradition in Denmark due to the widespread use of high health ‘Specific Pathogen Free’ (SPF) pigs by Danish farmers. The SPF programme was launched in 1971 and today over 3,000 herds have ‘SPF status’ and around 75% of sows are derived from the closely controlled SPF system.

Although internal biosecurity procedures are robust, an ASF risk is clearly posed by the large transport of live pigs to Poland and the Baltic area. In addition, it is estimated that around a third of the labour on Danish pig farms is from Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia. The spread of ASF in the large wild boar populations in these areas also represents a hazard.

Denmark’s strict security measures remain rigorously in place and everyone involved in Denmark’s pig industry is under no illusions about their importance. Spearheading Denmark’s counteraction against ASF is Dr Bent Nielsen, Head of Health & Diagnostics at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. He and his team held a nationwide “roadshow” during May targeted at the pig industry at large to ensure that everything possible is being done to keep ASF out of Denmark. 

“Wild boars are scavengers, which is a major problem when trying to control the ASF virus.” says Bent Nielsen. “The risk of contagion is particularly high at this time of year because infected wild boar carcasses, which have lain frozen in Central and Eastern European forests over the winter, have now thawed and are consumed by new wild boar populations. The virus is thus spread further afield.”

The latest outbreak of ASF in Poland has increased Denmark’s vigilance. Not only is Poland geographically close to Denmark, but 10 million live pigs are exported to central and eastern Europe every year, 30 per cent by Polish and Baltic vehicles.  More specifically, 2.5 million weaners are exported to Poland annually – 27% of the total 10 million exported weaners.

“We have invested heavily in wash and disinfection stations at strategic border areas,” says Bent Nielsen. “Last year, over 22,000 transport vehicles passed through the five Danish stations and were processed by our highly trained staff. All drivers’ boots are disinfected and drivers of trucks heading directly for Danish farms are equipped with boots and protective clothes in a sealed bag. Every driver receives a leaflet on ASF and its prevention, which is printed in five languages. In addition, we recently introduced a new piece of legislation which gives Denmark’s veterinary authorities the right to inspect all trucks to check that they are compliant with our high standards.” 

Summer brings additional concerns for Bent Nielsen and his team at DAFC.

“As ASF is prevalent in Sardinia, we advise everyone involved in Denmark’s pig industry not to holiday in this area but if they do, to avoid all contact with pork products. Last year, 105 Sardinian pig farmers experienced an outbreak of ASF and nine wild boars were found dead. The problem we are facing is that ASF can survive in meat for years. We have also warned people who like to hunt in infected areas to be particularly vigilant and wash and disinfect their clothes, footwear and equipment when they return from a hunt.”  

“We’re fighting a tough battle, but I’m confident that with the controls that we have in place, by monitoring the movement of lorries and through our wash and disinfection stations, we will ensure that ASF will not enter Denmark.”