With the recent death of more than 300 pigs in the Highlands region from African swine fever, the deadly virus has finally arrived in Papua New Guinea. What can the country and its farmers do to fight it?
The pig deaths in Papua New Guinea occurred between November 2019 and February 2020 and the National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority conducted the first tests. Samples were also sent to Australia and the cases were only confirmed as African swine fever last week by PNG’s Minister for Agriculture and Livestock, John Simon. It has since been confirmed by the World Organisation for Animal Health.
‘This discovery has caused a stir in the Agriculture Department – adding that the spread of the contagious virus is a huge threat not only to domesticated pigs, but the whole pork industry in the country,’ said the Minister in a statement.
High mortality rate
African swine fever is a devastatingly deadly viral disease that affects pigs and is spread easily through contact between animals. The virus has a high mortality rate, with most pigs that contract the hemorrhagic disease likely to die. The disease does not pass from pigs to humans.
The Pirbright Institute in the UK is a leader in the field of African swine fever research. It says that infected pigs may have the following symptoms:
- High fever, lethargy and loss of appetite
- Reddening of the skin
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Laboured breathing
- Swollen red eyes
In some cases, pigs may also die suddenly and without evident signs of disease.
‘It [the African swine fever] originates from warthogs and a soft tick species that lives in warthog fur in East Africa and pigs now become infected if they eat infected meat or ingest other contaminated materials,’ Pirbright Institute’s Linda Dixon has told the BBC. Feeding pigs raw pig meat can also be a major source of the spread of the virus.
How to stop the spread
Apart from not feeding your pigs raw pork, the only defence against this disease is intensive bio-security measures, but Agriculture and Livestock Minister, John Simon, told a press conference that much of his department’s focus had been on the border with Indonesia and other traditional trade routes. The discovery of the virus in Mendi in the Highlands has caught the government off guard.
African Swine Fever is now in PNG. At a Press Conference today, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. John Simon revealed that the African Swine Fever which affects and kills pigs in large numbers has been found in Mendi, SHP.#ASF#NAQIA_DAL#FAOinPNG pic.twitter.com/H4IogECS1E
— FAO Papua New Guinea (@FAOinPNG) March 29, 2020
Simon has put in place a quarantine of three provinces – Southern Highlands, Hela and Enga – and suggested that farmers in that area slaughter their remaining pigs. But, under PNG’s current State of Emergency, Simon admits that policing the quarantine and slaughter will be an issue, with police stretched to try and keep people at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is also a complete ban on the movement of pigs and pig products outside of the affected areas and the Chief Stock Inspector given wider powers to enforce the quarantine.
The cost to farmers
If we look to other parts of the world where the virus has already been transmitted, it has had a devastating affect on the local animal population. China has seen a third of its pigs (about 100 million) lost to the disease and there have been several hundred outbreaks in Vietnam, playing havoc with both countries’ pork industries.
In Papua New Guinea, the scale might not be the same but the importance of pigs in daily life in the provinces, for celebration, for solving inter-tribal conflict and simply to provide an income for families means farmers are likely to be hard hit.
Australian Pork Limited Chief Executive Margo Andrae showed how worried the AU$5.3 billion (K112 billion) Australian pork industry is when they heard the news, telling the ABC that the disease took six months to reach Timor and now has been found in PNG. The industry body fears that Australia is next.
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