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UN food agency says African swine fever global issue

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Thursday said countries affected by African swine fever should be on the alert against a “likely imminent upsurge” of the deadly pig disease.

“African swine fever is fast becoming a global issue,” Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said in a statement from the Rome-based agency.

“It now poses an immediate threat to Europe and beyond. Countries need to be on the alert and to strengthen their preparedness and contingency plans,” he added.

Warning of a probable increase in swine fever in the Caucasus region and Russian Federation, FAO called for “a concerted international effort to prevent the infection spreading more widely across the Northern Hemisphere.”

While not harmful to humans, the disease is often lethal to pigs and there is currently no vaccine. Preventive strategies to control the disease include quarantine and on-farm security, as well as training and awareness camps.

African swine fever (ASF) was introduced into Georgia from southern Africa late in 2006, entering through the Black Sea port of Poti, where garbage from a ship was taken to a dump where pigs came to feed, FAO said.

“Outbreaks are distinctly seasonal, with the highest number of cases registered in the summer and autumn. But as the ASF wave travels northwards a separate phenomenon, long-distance ‘jumps’, is also occurring,” it said.

“Long-distance jumps are food-borne, with virus surviving in pig meat products taken by travellers. At the destination, food scraps may be fed to pigs, setting off a new outbreak,” it added.

The agency warned that the current virus strain was “very aggressive,” but said that many farmers were not reporting outbreaks for fear of seeing their pigs culled without receiving adequate compensation.