September 9, 2019
An emergency roundtable of industry experts was convened by Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie in Canberra last week in a bid to identify if more can be done to stop African swine fever entering the country.
“African swine fever is potentially the biggest animal disease event the world has ever seen and it’s marching south through Asia, towards Australia,” Minister McKenzie said.
“The disease doesn’t pose a threat to human health but kills about 80 per cent of pigs it infects.
“There’s no vaccine and no cure for this highly contagious disease.
“Some estimates suggest China’s pig herd has decreased by 30 per cent since African swine fever arrived which may increase to 50 per cent by the end of 2019 – that would be a loss of 200 million pigs – one in four of the world’s pigs.
“We need to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep this disease out so we can safeguard Australia’s 2700 pig producers, the 36,000 jobs that rely on their businesses, and all those millions of Australians who enjoy eating our safe, high quality bacon and pork.”
She said the Federal Government had already ramped up inspections of people and mail arriving from countries affected by African swine fever.
“We’ve suspended trade of high-risk pig products from affected countries and we’ve banned travellers bringing in pork jerky from all countries,” she said.
“But more can be done if we partner with industry.
“Since we increased border checks we’ve seized 23 tonnes of pork from African swine fever countries and of the pork we tested about 15 per cent was positive for the virus.”
The roundtable brought together representatives from the livestock, meat, stockfeed, food and beverage industry, market analysts and Chief Veterinary Officers.
“Less than 10 per cent of Australia’s pig meat by value is destined for overseas markets. Australian consumers would be hard hit should the unthinkable happen to our pork industry,” Ms McKenzie said.
“The threats to the system are real and deserve proper resourcing and national attention.
“Biosecurity should be mentioned along with defence and home affairs as safeguarding the nation.
“What I heard at the roundtable was the need for more forums where all parties can come together, test our respective systems, and share perspectives and knowledge.
“There was a lot of goodwill and consensus around the need to improve communication – not just between governments and industry … but also with the whole community.
“I’ve asked my department to actively engage with international student associations and tour operators to make sure the message is getting through to people in African swine fever countries – don’t bring pork products in through the airport or the mail.
“We’ll be holding a simulation exercise later this year to test our disease response capabilities to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be should the unthinkable happen,” Ms McKenzie said.
“The exercise will involve all those with a stake including State and territory departments, the pork industry and Animal Health Australia.”
Australian Pork Limited’s chief executive Margo Andrae said the Australian pork industry was an important contributor to rural and regional economies.
It currently provides about 36,000 jobs and is worth $5.3 billion a year to the Australian economy.
“Our industry is very proactive in managing biosecurity risks, and whether you have a pet pig or 10,000 pigs you have a responsibility,” Ms Andrae said.
Minister McKenzie said it was important to remember that African swine fever wasn’t just a threat to Australia; in some countries it was having disastrous consequences and causing social and economic impacts.
“China says it will have a 10 million tonne pork deficit this year – that is more than the total amount of pork traded internationally each year,” the Minister said.
“Some Chinese consumers will be looking to substitute pork with other meats like poultry, beef and lamb but China has said it will struggle to fill the gap with domestically produced meat.
“China is already a significant market for Australian beef and lamb, so we’re well placed to support Chinese consumers’ access to safe, high quality protein.
“And while we don’t have direct market access for poultry and pork, we can expect that those countries that do will be sending product to China.
“That may present an opportunity for our producers to ‘backfill’ in other markets so that Chinese consumers can continue to access the protein they want.”
Footnote: The Philippines reportedly culled 7000 pigs last week in response to an outbreak of swine fever in two towns near Manila.