Pork producers in Australia face a tough task just to survive in the business. It's a competitive environment with low pork prices and high feed costs characterizing the industry.
The presence of feral pigs that might transmit an exotic disease in the event of an outbreak can be yet another stress in the management of a piggery. Recently I gave a talk to some Queensland pork producers who were concerned about the possible involvement of feral pigs in outbreaks of pneumonia, which can cost a piggery a tonne of money. Following outbreaks of pneumonia in several commercial piggeries in the State, local feral pigs were found to be carrying the disease as well. This doesn't mean the disease came from the feral pigs, mind you: it's possible they got it from the commercial pigs. But it can't be a good thing.
Now researchers at the University of Western Australia have warned of the potential impact of feral pigs should Classical Swine Fever (CSF) reach Australia (we have been free of the disease since 1961). Professor George Milne and colleagues at the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering concluded that a classical swine fever outbreak, starting in north Queensland, could spread widely through Australia’s 20 million feral pigs, potentially posing a risk to Australia’s domestic pig population.
“Our computer model simulated the effect of wild pigs moving across the landscape and showed how classical swine fever could spread among feral pigs in the right seasonal conditions, becoming endemic and almost impossible to eradicate,” Professor Milne said.
“The time of the outbreak and seasonal factors are absolutely critical to how quickly the disease could spread and our modeling clearly shows the greatest danger of a rapidly spreading epidemic is at the start of the dry season, which is about now, when feral pigs gather around water sources.
“We know male pigs travel great distances and can spread the disease far and wide, so an effective strategy to combat an outbreak during the dry season would involve targeting adult male herds,” Professor Milne said.
The danger posed by feral pigs reinforces the value and importance of Australia's excellent disease status and how vital it is that our quarantine barriers remain strong, both at a National level, but also at farm biosecurity level. It was concern over the impact of exotic diseases by Meat and Livestock Australia that led our previous Cooperative Research Centre to develop PigOut with Animal Control Technologies Australia, the first shelf-stable bait for feral pig control. Pork producers may wish to look into its use to increase the biosecurity buffer around their production facilities.Thanks to Brendan Cant for alerting me to the UWA work. Meat and Livestock Australia and the members of the Pest Animal Control CRC (the forerunner to the Invasive Animals CRC) receive royalties on the sale of PigOut.
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'