Voluntary Ban on Pig Imports from Virus-Hit Countries Must Be Upheld

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01 September 2014

Union supports establishment of containment fund

NFU Scotland is calling on pig breeding companies to play their part in keeping Scotland and Great Britain free from a virus that has had a devastating impact in the United States and has spread to Canada.

As many as three-quarters of US herds have been infected with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus (PEDv) suffering up to 100 percent mortality in piglet litters.  Only 80 percent of infected herds have regained normal levels of production after disease incursion.  This suggests that long-lasting immunity to the virus is not guaranteed and long term issues can be expected in some systems.  The Canadian pig sector has learned from US experience, recognised the risks associated with haulage and feed, and has stopped its PEDv outbreak in its tracks.  No new disease has been reported in recent months.

Scottish and GB stakeholders have put their weight behind pig breeding companies adhering to a voluntary import ban that would exclude live pigs arriving here from the USA and Canada.  The discovery that a shipment of live boars from the USA had recently transited through Prestwick airport on route to England was extremely disappointing and has prompted the Union to write to pig breeding companies, reiterating the urgent need for a voluntary ban on live imports from PEDv-hit countries to be adopted.

The Union has also written to Defra Farming Minister George Eustice and Scottish Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, asking them to support an all-island approach to containing the disease, were it to arrive in Great Britain.  The Union believes that any PEDv contingency plan, particularly on infected premises in the early stages, could be supported by levy funding.

If this initial response fails, a containment strategy will be essential. NFU Scotland understands Scotland’s Centre for Epidemiology, Population health and Infectious disease Control (EPIC), which specialises in animal disease outbreaks, is already looking at risks and control strategies.

Speaking from the EPIC annual meeting, being held in Edinburgh today (1 September), NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller – a farmer and qualified vet - said:

“The threat posed to the health of Scottish and UK pig herds by PEDv is substantial and infection would be a devastating blow to the sector. To preserve the health of our herds from this deadly virus, a voluntary import ban to exclude live pigs from the USA and Canada is an agreed priority from industry on both sides of the border.

“It was therefore extremely disappointing that the will of the industry was ignored recently and that a substantial consignment of boars were imported from the USA, moving through Prestwick airport, to south of the Border.

“Regardless of the assurances given over the health of these boars and the risk associated with that shipment, the lack of respect for industry wishes is a blow and we have written to pig breeding companies calling on them to play their part in keeping this disease away from our shores. Testing and quarantine protocols can offer some protection but experience has shown they are not fool proof, especially where new diseases are concerned, and pathways of infection are far from clear. Protecting the industry against infection is paramount and we look for assurances that no further consignments will come in until industry can be confident that the disease risk is minimal.

“The success of any approach in combatting PEDv will be determined by the weakest link in our defences.  Robust action and an all island approach has the best chance of keeping us free of this dreadful virus.  Were it to arrive, then speed is everything in disease control and in reducing the health, welfare and economic impact of a virus like PEDv.  Prompt reporting or diagnosis must trigger an immediate response to shut down the disease.

“The industry has a role in highlighting the risk on grower units; the need to take episodes of profuse scour seriously and to test for PEDv. Clearly high piglet mortalities on breeding farms will press immediate alarm bells.  There is also a need for Ministers to back up a proactive industry and look at introducing notifiable status for PEDv to ensure reporting and communication is embedded within the pig sector.   

“The industry accepts that behind the reporting and standstill standards, it should also take much of the responsibility. Were we to suffer an incursion, levy funding could be used to support robust action to eliminate the disease on the first few infected premises.  In such an emergency situation, we believe it would be appropriate for the levy bodies and the governments in both Edinburgh and Westminster to agree and support a common approach. That levy funding, perhaps utilising some of the dislocated levy linked to pigs slaughtered outwith the country of origin, could help fund a joint eradication programme.

“While the politics around dislocated levy funds are sensitive, in extreme disease situations we must collaborate to deliver the best outcomes and avoid unnecessary losses and suffering. In writing to George Eustice and Richard Lochhead, we hope all parties can commit to a collaborative strategy and fast track the required structures and process.”

Notes to Editors

  • Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus (PEDv) only infects pigs. PEDv is not a risk to human health or other animals. It is not a food safety risk.
  • PEDv is an alpha coronavirus. A less virulent version of the PEDv virus has been known within the UK and Europe but it is unlikely that there will be any cross resistance and UK pigs will be fully susceptible to the more virulent strain.
  • Although a vaccine has recently been licensed within the USA it is as yet unproven and very little data is available.
  • If PEDv does get onto a pig farm in the UK, it will be vital to detect it as quickly as possible. Unusual signs of diarrhoea should be checked out and samples taken. A test is available through AHVLA and SRUC labs.
  • Plasma protein in feed has been linked to the first cases in the USA and Canada. Use of plasma products is not allowed under QMS and Red Tractor Schemes.
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