The pork industry is calling on pig owners to boost their biosecurity measures after African swine fever (ASF) and foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus fragments were again detected in pork products seized at Australia’s international mail centres.
- Almost a quarter of pork products detected at airports and mailing centres tested positive for ASF virus fragments, and 1 per cent for FMD
- Penalties for bringing undeclared pork have increased from $444 on the spot, to $2,664
- If ASF or FMD is detected on an Australian farm, all animals must be destroyed
Between November 5, 2018 and December 31, 2020, 42.8 tonnes of pork products were intercepted on air travellers, and 9.4 tonnes intercepted in mail items at the Australian border.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said FMD was considered the biggest animal disease threat to Australia’s agriculture.
“An outbreak of FMD in Australia would lead to the closure of major livestock, beef, lamb, dairy and pork export markets with serious economic and social effects in other sectors, including tourism,” he said.
FMD is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals including buffalo, pigs, cattle, sheep, deer, camels and goats.
Studies have estimated a large multi-state outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australia could result in economic losses of $50 billion over 10 years. An outbreak of African swine fever could cost Australia $1.5 to $2 billion over five years.
Mr Littleproud said FMD could spread rapidly. Cattle were most susceptible, though pigs transmitted the disease fastest.
“While these results do not confirm live infectious virus is present, it is a reminder that we need everyone to be more vigilant. It is more important than ever that people do the right thing and don’t bring, mail or import illegal pork or animal products into Australia,” he said.
“For large importers … it’s over $1 million and the potential of 10 years jail.”
“These findings highlight the need for Australia’s livestock industries to maintain high biosecurity standards. Practices such as illegal swill feeding (feeding food scraps that have been in contact with meat to pigs) have the potential to bring these diseases into their farms.”
Patrick Hutchinson, from the Australian Meat Industry Council, said both farmers and the general community needed more education about swill feeding.
“That is a requirement of the regulators and the department of agriculture in each state. The power that could provide cannot be underestimated,” he said.
More than a pig problem
Mr Hutchinson said it didn’t matter if someone owned one pig or 100; the threat of a biosecurity breach was equally serious.
“People need to recognise that they’re part of a total supply chain, because bigger operations have had issues just as much as smaller operations have and it affects everyone — regardless of size,” he said.
“It’s not just an issue that impacts the rural industry, it actually impacts the entire community.”
In Victoria, if a pig owner is found to be feeding meat-contaminated food to their animal, the penalties can be up to nearly $60,000.
Animal Health and Welfare officers investigate producers suspected of swill feeding and depending on the severity of the offence will issue warning letters, or infringement notices. In serious matters, prosecutions can occur.
In the past five years, there have been 46 investigations into suspected prohibited pig feeding.
Those convicted in Victoria under the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 of feeding prohibited substances to pigs, can be fined up to $19,826 for individuals and up to $59,479 for businesses.
Protecting the farm
Central Victorian pig farmer Tim Kingma said the threat of diseases entering the farm was constantly on the minds of producers.
“There is a lot we can do. On my farms we put fences around to keep feral pigs out so that’s one risk.”
“Another risk is products coming onto the farm, so we have now set up a UV light for everything, including our lunch boxes, we all shower in so all of our clothes from outside the farm stay in a separate location and we supply all the boots and clothes.
“We’re doing a lot on farm, but the next step I’d like to see in Victoria is: if we get the worst-case scenario, how do we handle it?”