Deadly pig disease causes ‘untold losses’ for poor farming families each year
15 November, 2013, Rome – FAO is spearheading an international effort to step up the fight against African swine fever (ASF), a deadly pig disease that can devastate livelihoods and food security. Small-scale farmers are worst hit by the effects of ASF, which also threatens international trade. By developing a Global Platform for African swine fever and other important swine diseases, FAO and its partners plan to increase knowledge on ASF and its ramifications as well as promote collaboration among governments and pig producers to reduce global risk.
From 5 to 7 November 2013, experts from Africa, China, Europe, Japan and the United States of America gathered at FAO headquarters to discuss progress on the Global Platform in an effort to better coordinate ASF prevention and control. The forum was sponsored in part by the United States Department of Agriculture. Members of the private sector, international organizations, research centres and national governments also contributed.
“ASF is particularly widespread in Africa, but there have been outbreaks in the Caucasus and eastern Europe in recent years. It has now become a global problem,” said forum coordinator and FAO Animal Health Officer Daniel Beltran-Alcrudo.
There is currently no vaccine against this viral disease, which causes high death rates in pigs and wild boar. ASF does not infect humans.
The Global Platform will also address other swine diseases, including classical swine fever, parasitic diseases caused by roundworm larvae and tapeworm eggs and other diseases that can spread through the pig food chain.
“Many of the measures that can be put in place to counter ASF are valid for other diseases and can help farmers improve biosecurity and prevent pathogens from entering farms,” said Beltran-Alcrudo. “Rather than fighting these diseases separately, it makes sense to capitalize on their similarities and design disease control efforts to improve overall pig health.”
The ASF virus is particularly resilient. It can endure variations in temperature and acidity levels, which allows it to survive for months in pig carcasses, hides, blood, faeces and frozen or smoked meats.
As a result, the virus can spread thousands of kilometres from its original source, infecting pigs who feed on swill and food scraps that contain contaminated pork products.
“Any country with a pig sector is at an imminent risk from the arrival of ASF, which would cause major problems for international trade,” said Beltran-Alcrudo.
Pig mortalities, whether caused by ASF or the slaughter of animals during attempts at control, mean heavy economic losses for producers and government agencies. Mortalities also mean the loss of an important source of protein for households. Moreover, indirect losses also occur due to international trade restrictions.
“ASF causes untold losses throughout affected countries for backyard farmers who tend to sell their pigs when they need cash, for example to send their kids to school,” said Beltran-Alcrudo. “If the pigs become infected with ASF, it has wide-reaching repercussions for the whole family.”
In Sub-Saharan Africa, and now in Eastern Europe, the disease is having a high impact on pigs kept in low biosecurity settings (e.g. free range/scavenging and backyard systems).
However, much can be done in the face of ASF. The disease can be kept out of pig farming operations if operators observe tight biosecurity controls. The investment and commitment of all stakeholders is crucial, since these establishing and maintaining these measures can be expensive and logistically difficult.
Bringing pig producers and prevention agencies together
The Global Platform will bring together the private sector (e.g. pig producers, farmer and veterinarian associations, pharmaceutical companies), international and regional organizations, research institutions, government and non-governmental organizations. The goal will be to shape a common agenda against ASF and other important pig diseases.
During the forum, participants confirmed the strategic vision for the Global Platform: “A global, thriving pig sector contributing to global food security through the prevention and control of ASF and other important diseases of swine”. Attendees also agreed that a secretariat will be established at FAO to prepare the Platform for its official establishment in the coming months. The governance, institutional set-up and membership will also be defined, along with a set of preliminary activities.
FAO is supporting the Global Platform through its partnership with the World Organisation for Animal Health under the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases.