African Swine Fever (ASF) has been endemic in sub-Saharan Africa since its first detection in Kenya in 1909. In Africa, ASF has a sylvatic cycle with wild African suids (warthogs, giant forest hogs, bushpigs) and Ornithodoros ticks maintaining the infection within domestic pigs and wild boar populations. In 2007, ASF spread to Georgia and the Caucasus. It continued its spread across Europe and Russia. In August 2018, it was confirmed in China where it has quickly spread to 32 out of 34 provinces.
The majority of countries in southeast Asia have been impacted - Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and Timor Leste - throughout 2019. Outbreaks of disease continue to occur in these regions in both domestic and wild populations despite control efforts as of March 2020. In addition, ASF was confirmed in Papua New Guinea at the time of writing.
With the threat of ASF reaching Australian shores increasing, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) implemented the African Swine Fever Preparedness Program in October 2019. The plan was for six months of intensive work focused on ASF prevention and preparedness for all stakeholders involved with pigs. This paper discusses the various projects within that program and highlights the unique opportunity to prepare for a disease prior to a confirmed case with the full cooperation of national, state and industry representatives.
The objectives of the program include:
1. Create awareness to reduce the risk of ASF entering and spreading within NSW pig producers in all communities.
Within this project, a number of actions are required. A targeted communications and engagement strategy for a variety of stakeholders including the identification of all the stakeholders associated with the owning and raising of pigs is required. Reasonably obvious stakeholders range from commercial pig producers, processors and livestock transporters to hunters in the feral pig space, to pet pig and pig rescue operations. It also includes human research facilities that use pigs as part of their research unit. The engagement strategy has to be fit for purpose and quite specific to motivate the various stakeholders.
Similarly, it is critical with pork production in Australia to have the pork industry bodies, such as Australian Pork Limited and NSW Farmers Pork Group, actively involved in decision making and risk management. This relationship is very well developed in NSW and there has been coordinated two-way support throughout this process. These representatives are not just seeking information from government, they are participating in testing disease response plans, openly providing information on their industry and are a valued part of the success of this program.
As the pork industry is a national industry that interconnects every state on a daily basis, it is also crucial that government discussions are nationally focused. For the pork industry to manage an ASF outbreak, borders need to remain open to ensure continuation of the supply chain from semen availability to processing and rendering of final products. Animal Health Committee (AHC) recognises the importance of a national approach and has been collaborating closely with industry. An AHC national taskforce was formed in October to address known areas of risk including operationalising AUSVETPLAN, movement options, destruction, disposal, and decontamination (DDD) methods, managing processors and developing strategy in relation to many complicated issues around feral pigs in Australia.
Within NSW, it has been surprising how many government units have some association to the pig industry. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment houses many operational units that need to work together or at least communicate regularly to complete this program. The more obvious include Animal Biosecurity, Biosecurity and Food Safety, Agriculture and the Industry and Engagement Teams but there are also the Game Licensing Unit, Local Government Unit, Invasive Species Team, Food Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the Chief Scientist's Branch has also assisted with rapid literature searches around the epidemiology and current knowledge of ASF outbreaks worldwide. Finally, at the field level, the Local Land Services are providing the essential frontline face for producers, pig owners, processors and the general public.
The engagement strategies employed include a range of social media, standard website materials and face-to-face engagement activities. Each of the stakeholder groups falls into a particular network where the lead government agency is assisting in getting out the key prevention messages relevant to their groups.
What are the key messages?
2. Improved biosecurity across the supply chain to prevent an ASF incursion.
All aspects of the supply chain have been considered with this objective. At the farm level, farm biosecurity planning is the key activity including discussions about how a farm might undertake DDD. Traditionally in emergency response, how to undertake DDD has required the assistance of government due to producers not being aware or having the knowledge. However, in this unique situation of being able to consider issues prior to an outbreak, producers and industry as a whole can be brought into the discussion to solve and test various options prior to an event. These cooperative efforts will add value to the overall outcomes by providing accurate data for scenario analysis, but also build a common understanding of the complexities of performing these necessary tasks in a response.
Processors of pigs, particularly the pig-only export facilities, have been both part of the national discussions at the industry level and assessing their own facilities on an enterprise level. NSW DPI has had discussions directly with both NSW export pig facilities around improving their biosecurity measures to prevent an incursion and also how they could decontaminate their facility in order to return to business quickly. Similarly, discussions with these processors around continuing to process and render product in the face of an outbreak will be critical to maintain welfare throughout the pig supply chain. Discussions with domestic abattoirs focus on implementing biosecurity measures on their sites as well as their capacity to continue to process pigs in the event of an outbreak.
In relation to feral pigs, Local Land Services are inspecting waste sites (rubbish tips) in their regions for feral pig activity and the risk of presence of infective material. Local Government Officers have been updated and engaged in the responsible disposal of food waste and risks it poses so that they can communicate that message in their day-to-day contacts.
States and Territories continue to work together to develop strategies and principles of control for the feral pig population. NSW has had an active role in providing information both to inform risk mapping but also advise on control techniques for feral pigs based on the NSW experience.
3. Prepare documents and policy directions to enable a rapid response if required.
While we have the luxury of time with the motivation of an increased threat, the ASF program is allowing the development of response documents and systems.
4. Develop partnerships with various government, industry and producer groups to foster collaboration
As discussed above, the NSW DPI African Swine Fever Program would not be possible without the partnerships between the stakeholders previously mentioned. The relationships we are developing in this program will support ongoing discussions after the ASF program has been completed and outstanding items return to Animal Biosecurity business in the coming years. The threat of ASF will not lessen in the short term with the disease very likely to become endemic in our northern neighbours (Indonesia and the Philippines) and still moving around the world. For the pork industry, this threat is an ongoing one that will require permanent changes to the way they do business. Compartmentalisation will be the next major body of work to protect Australia's pork industry with the Commonwealth leading the discussions.