Biosecurity vigilance to stop ASF spread to Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st April 2020

AUSTRALIAN pork producers remain on alert following confirmation this week the deadly virus African swine fever (ASF) has caused the death of hundreds of pigs in Papua New Guinea.

PNG officials, who confirmed that samples from the affected Southern Highlands pigs were sent to Australia and returned positive for ASF, are now investigating how the virus spread to the region, including the possibility of transmission via imported canned food.

Australian Pork Ltd CEO Margo Andrae said the detection of ASF in PNG reinforced the importance of the ongoing ASF mitigation work between the pork industry, government and other stakeholders.

“While ASF does not pose human health risks, the deadly virus would absolutely devastate Australia’s pork industry if it arrived here. The potential national economic impact from an ASF incursion in Australia is estimated to be more than $2 billion,” Ms Andrae said.

“There is no cure for ASF and millions of Australian pigs would be at risk if the disease reached our country. That would devastate pork producers and Australian fresh pork supplies and seriously jeopardise the wellbeing of the 36,000 Australians employed in our industry.”

Ms Andrae said ASF represented potentially the biggest animal disease event the world has ever seen, having already killed hundreds of millions of pigs across Asia and Europe.

“ASF is now confirmed in PNG, Indonesia and Timor Leste and we’re concerned about its potential spread to the Pacific region. This battle is being fought across international borders and we welcome the Federal Government‘s offer this week to assist PNG to contain the virus,” Ms Andrae said.

“Even with current travel restrictions, there’s no room for complacency in terms of ASF, especially given international postal services remain operational. That’s why the installation of two new 3D xray machines at the Sydney and Melbourne mail centres, as part of the Federal Government’s $66.6 million ASF-response package, is such an important part of our defence.

“Biosecurity measures in the Torres Strait have been strengthened as a result of COVID-19 and the Government is further reviewing those measures to reflect the risk ASF in PNG poses to Australia.”

Confirmation of ASF in PNG coincides with the Inspector-General of Biosecurity’s release last week of the updated report on the adequacy of preventative border measures to mitigate the risk of ASF.

“A timely recommendation in the report is the inclusion of additional criteria in risk assessment for flights from ASF-affected countries, including a focus on seasonal farm workers,” Ms Andrae said.

“We can’t afford any weak links in our defence against ASF. All aspects of monitoring at the border are critical, but so is the work by producers to strengthen on-farm biosecurity and the cross-agency collaboration being led by National Feral Pig Management Coordinator, Dr Heather Channon.”