Contingency planning in the face of African swine fever

Tuesday, 7 May 2024

As African swine fever (ASF) continues to move around Europe and other parts of the world, the UK remains at high risk for a disease incursion. Below, Mandy Nevel, Head of Animal Health & Welfare, shares her thoughts on the risk of ASF reaching the UK and the importance of contingency planning.

Much of the spread of ASF is caused by people moving infected meat. Imported pork from areas where ASF is already circulating is, therefore, our greatest risk.

While border checks are a deterrent, we know that pork, which could contain the ASF virus, does reach and enter the UK. This means the best way we can keep ASF out of our pig farms is through strict biosecurity.

Most pig producers are aware of this and maintain high standards. Unfortunately, some do not. 

So, what would happen if your neighbour's unit became infected with ASF – would you be prepared? It is likely there would be significant movement restrictions on your pigs and visitors.

Now is the time to make sure that you have thought through the ramifications of locking down your farm.

In such a circumstance, much will be out of your hands, but knowing where you could/could not send or buy pigs from, who to contact and what help is around is all useful information that you can gather now. 

If you have more than one unit, have you considered how things would need to change if one of the units was under restrictions? A simulation exercise with staff can identify pinch points and it is better to think about these before the situation arises.

We encourage all pig units to consider the issues that would manifest on farm and identify any possible solutions that could help ease the difficulties.

There is no doubt, if ASF hits, it will hit hard. Having a contingency plan is not going to solve all the issues but it can help.

In your contingency plan you should think about animal movements on and off the farm and to the abattoir, as well as feed supplies, haulage, other visitors and so on.

It is also worth considering the impact of such a disease outbreak on staff. On affected farms, pigs will be culled. It is a horrible thought, but thinking the logistics through before the event can help.

During the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, many people suffered mental health issues. Employers have an obligation to look after the wellbeing of staff and this is particularly needed during times of crisis. There are several organisations that can provide support before it is needed.

We must keep up our strict biosecurity protocols to prevent ASF ever getting on our farms. We can consider steps we may take if we, or our neighbours, do become affected. A good starting place is the AHDB/NPA contingency plan. The guide will take you through the process of preparing a plan, for example if you are placed in a restriction zone.

Download our contingency planning for pig keepers guide

Learn more about African swine fever

Get more tips about biosecurity on pig farms

Image of staff member Mandy Nevel

Mandy Nevel

Head of Animal Health and Welfare

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