The local pork industry is on high alert after the first case of African swine fever was detected for the year.
Two weeks ago, a minor outbreak in the herd of a smallholder farmer was confirmed near Potchefstroom in North West. This resulted in about 100 pigs being culled and disposed of.
According to the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO), it is suspected that the infection spread from a speculator who buys pigs at auctions or from traders.
Dr Peter Evans, who heads up consumer assurance at SAPPO, says, “It is becoming really frustrating that irresponsible buying and selling of pigs continue among speculators and communal or village pig farmers.”
He says SAPPO takes African swine fever seriously and, as such is formulating action plans to deal with it.
This includes discussions with the Agricultural Produce Agents Council which represent auctioneers.
Return of auctions
Up-and-coming farmers in Mpumalanga are, however, pleased that auctions have finally resumed.
This means that they can now market their pigs through auctions again, says SAPPO’s Leago Theko, a farmers’ mentor.
“This is as a relief as most of them are not compartmentalised and Pork 360-accredited. They have been struggling to sell their pigs to accredited abattoirs,” he says.
Meanwhile some abattoirs are becoming more discerning as to whose pigs they are prepared to receive at their facilities.
This, Evans explains, is mainly driven by larger farmers’ concerns that co-mingling at abattoirs is a potential source of cross-contamination from infected farms back to their own farms.
“Desperate (economic) times often leads to reckless actions and poor decision-making, which can possibly explain the current increases in outbreaks,” he says.
Careless movement of pigs
In SAPPO’s latest update on African swine fever it says 40 different outbreaks were recorded during 2019 and 2020.
Cases in Mpumalanga and Gauteng related to purchases of pigs from an auction facility, whereas cases in the north-eastern part of the Free State related to careless movement of pigs.
During May last year, African swine fever was diagnosed at the Amathole District Municipality in the Eastern Cape for the first time in recorded history. The outbreak occurred in a communal setting where movement control and biosecurity between the respective pig herds are difficult.
The most recent case was in Gauteng. Evans says the state veterinarian is currently surveying farmers in the area to make sure that the virus has not spread.
In all cases where there was a suspicion of African swine fever, provincial veterinary services immediately place the affected area under quarantine pending confirmation.
Positive cases are quarantined, movement control is instituted, and surveillance conducted in the vicinity of the outbreak case. “In all cases, effort is made to dispose of all potentially infected material responsibly to the satisfaction of environmental affairs,” SAPPO says.
Meanwhile the pork organisation says it has made a policy decision to move away from incentivising owners to cull pigs, but rather to support government’s intervention strategy.