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Border biosecurity: our 'wall' safeguarding against disease

By Linda Searle
District Veterinarian, Deniliquin 

November 2018

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects pigs. The disease may cause pigs to die suddenly or have skin lesions, trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, weakness or high temperatures.

While ASF has never been found in Australia, it has been in the news a lot lately due to recent outbreaks in the Ukraine and Russia. It has also been found in China, Bulgaria and Belgium for the first time. By keeping Australia free of ASF we not only protect our domestic and international pork trade, we are also protecting the health and welfare of our pigs.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork. ASF was first detected on 3 August, with multiple outbreaks across eight different provinces now being reported. While tens of thousands of pigs have already been culled to try and stop the spread of the disease in China, the disease is not yet contained. The most recent case was reported on a property with 20,000 pigs, the largest farm affected to date.

In Europe, Denmark, Poland, Finland and France are constructing boar-proof fences to try and stop the movement of wild hogs, which could be hosts of the disease. Bulgaria also tried to prevent the disease by building a fence, but ASF was reported in backyard pigs in Bulgaria within a month of the fence being completed. The most likely route of infection is thought to be discarded infected meat products from ASF-infected areas, and with ASF now being found in Africa, Europe and Asia, the potential for spread is growing.

The benefit of being an island nation like Australia is being better able to control the movement and biosecurity of stock and animal products. While humans cannot contract the disease, people moving contaminated pork products are a major risk to our pig industry. To protect our country, we need a biosecurity barrier more efficient than a fence.

Educating overseas travelers and international visitors about what you can and can’t bring into Australia is an important part of our defences. It is essential at Customs to declare food and animal products, as well as footwear or equipment that has been in a rural area or in contact with animals, especially if people are travelling from countries with known ASF infection. Preventing any virus from making it into the country is the best defence against infection spreading throughout our domestic or feral pig population.

With the ease of online shopping, it is also important to consider the biosecurity implications when ordering products from overseas. Make sure you check the guidelines of what can enter Australia by mail before you purchase.

People who own, keep, feed, care for or farm pigs are the most important weapon in the fight against diseases such as ASF and foot and mouth disease.  These guardians of our pig population have a dual role: abiding by regulations on what can be fed to pigs (no meat, meat products or food that has been in contact with meat), and recognising the signs of exotic pig diseases.

Our multi-layered approach seeks to prevent entry of the ASF virus, stop the virus from being able to be spread to pigs and discover the problem early if it was to occur, saving our bacon in more ways than one!