Pig disease warning downplayed

Pig bosses are playing down fears over a new disease which breeders have claimed poses as great a risk as foot-and-mouth disease and could devastate the British pig industry.

HP-PRRS (Highly Pathogenic Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) has already hit several Asian countries, said AMC chairman Stephen Curtis, and he is worried that it could find its way into the UK herd through illegal import of exotic meat products.

Curtis said: “I have seen the effects first-hand in Cambodia — 20-30% mortality in breeding sows, up to 100% stillbirths, 80% abortions and up to 100% deaths in piglets. Stock boars that don’t die become infertile and semen is unusable for an extended period. Six months’ production is lost. It could virtually destroy the UK industry.”

However, a spokesman for Bpex said they were not pressing the "panic button" just yet, as the disease remained a long way from the UK. However, he added the industry needed to be aware of the problem.

HP-PRRS is a mutant strain of PRRS and is said to be highly transmissible. UK pigs are unlikely to have immunity through cross-protection and current vaccines are not fully effective, Curtis has warned. He also believes that border controls are still very lax for imported meat, with only a few trained search dogs at major airports. “Live animal imports from Europe would become a greater risk if this disease moves closer to such countries as Denmark and Belgium.”

Curtis suggests that the industry should draw up its own code of practice, with processors not offering contracts to, or purchasing pigs from, producers who import animals or semen into their herds.