‘Not giving food-scraps to pigs is more important than ever’, say vets as African Swine Fever risk is raised

18 August 2017

BVA and the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) are reminding pig keepers to avoid swill feeding following the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recent announcement that the risk of an incursion of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the UK has risen from ‘Very Low’ to ‘Low’.

ASF is a highly contagious disease, which does not affect humans. The risk level was raised due to spread of the disease and an increased weight of infection in Eastern Europe. Cases have now been reported in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland as the disease moves South and West. The spread to the Czech Republic is of particular concern, as ASF has ‘jumped’ a country indicating a new route of infection.

Most cases have been in wild boar, but there have been a significant number of cases identified in backyard sites and a small number of commercial herds. 

BVA Junior Vice President John Fishwick said, “The route of spread in most cases has been through contact with wild boar, and due to lapses in biosecurity measures.

"However, some cases have arisen through animals being fed swill which has been contaminated with infected meat. This means it is more important than ever that all pig keepers avoid feeding food waste of any kind to their animals. 

“Backyard keepers may believe that it is harmless to feed kitchen waste or vegetarian scraps to their pigs but this is illegal for a reason. Cross contamination can easily occur and live virus particles have been found on food packaging at one of the infected commercial herds.”

It is illegal to feed domestic food waste of any description in the UK and the consequences can be very serious, including risking a fatal disease in the pigs in question.

Owners should also ensure wild or feral pigs cannot gain access to domestic or catering waste in garbage, and are prevented from coming into contact with domestic pigs and herds.

Pig Veterinary Society President Mark White said: “Pigs with clinical African Swine Fever most commonly show signs of fever, inappetance, lack of energy and sudden death.  There may also be signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, red or dark skin, laboured breathing or coughing, abortion stillbirths and weak piglets born. 

“There is no risk to human health from this disease, but it could have an enormous impact on pigs in this country and would devastate our pig industry. This would have a consequential impact on the cost of pig meat to consumers.”

There is concern that the disease will continue to spread west to involve countries with a high density of wild boar such as Germany. There are several breeding colonies of wild boar or feral pigs in areas such as the Forest of Dean, Sussex, Kent, Dorset, Central Perthshire, Dumfriesshire and Lochaber. 

Any suspicions of the presence of ASF should be reported to local animal health and welfare services immediately. 

BVA Media Office