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ASF Threat in Phillipines brings disease risk close to home

Farmers are being reminded to review biosecurity precautions – particularly around international travel and visitors – after a possible outbreak of African Swine Fever was identified in the Philippines at the end of last week.

In a press conference yesterday (20th August, 2019), the Philippines Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar announced the agency had received an incident report "of an increased mortality of pigs raised by farmers in their backyards" near Barangay San Isidro in Rizal. According to the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) veterinarian Dr Joy Lagayan, the usual mortality rate for pigs is between 3 per cent and 5 per cent. In this case, however, the mortality rate in the area has spiked to as much as 20 per cent.

The Secretary has directed the BAI to conduct further confirmatory laboratory tests for ASF, including sending blood samples to foreign laboratories to determine the cause of the increase in death rate. Typically, testing for ASF can be completed in a few days but official results, if positive, may take several weeks.

The BAI has reportedly put the area under a “quarantine zone", which means the automatic depopulation of all pigs within 1 km of the affected farm(s) and increased disease surveillance for farms within 10 km. Around 8.1 million backyard pigs are estimated to be kept in the Philippines (2017 data).

NZ Pork general manager David Baines says the outbreak, if confirmed, is a real concern for the industry and the wider agricultural sector, which employs many workers from the Philippines.

“We are potentially seeing the disease take another step closer to New Zealand, as it continues its march through Asia,” says David Baines

“However, of much greater concern is that farm workers from New Zealand could come into contact with the disease while visiting the Philippines and bring it back to this country.”

ASF is an exceptionally hardy disease and can be easily picked up and carried on clothing, footwear and equipment.

Mr Baines says NZ Pork is reminding all farmers to review their biosecurity protocols and in particular look at arrangements for no-contact time and staff stand-down periods after overseas travel.

International recommendations for preventing the spread of ASF from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are that staff and visitors should stay away from pigs for at least five days after returning from overseas. Additionally, no pork products of any kind – local or imported – should be brought onto a pig farm.

“New Zealand’s pig farmers have very strict biosecurity practices, and are extremely careful about when workers and visitors can enter their farms after travel and especially when in contact with other pigs,” says David Baines. “However, this possible outbreak creates another layer of risk – and one that is not confined only to the commercial pig farming industry.”

“Experienced workers from the Philippines play a large and very positive role in New Zealand’s agricultural sector and work right across the country. So, we’re asking farmers and their staff to take a close look at the risks, for example if workers are travelling home to visit family and may come into contact with backyard pigs, and take precautions to manage them.”

Mr Baines says the industry is concerned that the disease could be brought into this country through contact with infected animals or even on an item of clothing and transmitted to the local pig population.

“Even if a farm only raises a handful of pigs or if a worker just comes into contact with another farm that does, our very real fear is that this devastating disease could be picked up and spread into the commercial herd – with potentially devastating effects on our industry.”

“We are asking everyone in the community to be vigilant, observe biosecurity protocols and report any suspected signs immediately to MPI on 0800 80 99 66.”

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