Barongarook pork producer Xavier Meade has 29 sows and is focussed on biosecurity. (ABC Rural: Simone Smith)
The green hills of south-west Victoria could not be further from the latest outbreak of the highly contagious viral disease African swine fever (ASF) in Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor.
- African swine fever is less than 700km from Australia, in East Timor
- A Victorian pig farmer is focusing on biosecurity measures at his property
- A Colac butcher says he has not heard any customers asking about ASF in his shop
But the deadly disease is something playing on the mind of Barongarook pork producer Xavier Meade.
“Early on, when it was first discovered in Europe, we didn’t really pay that much attention to it,” he said.
“I guess now, with the spread of it through Asia and the fact it is so close to home, just being discovered in East Timor, it is starting to be a real issue for us.”
What is African swine fever?
ASF is estimated to have killed about 25 per cent of the world’s pig population.
It is a viral disease of pigs that can spread rapidly by contact with infected pigs and pig products, or through contact with contaminated vehicles, equipment, feed, or clothing.
It has also been spread via ticks.
According to Agriculture Victoria, the virus is able to survive extended periods in raw, processed, and frozen meat and meat products, and is resistant to several commercially available disinfectants.
Pigs that have recovered from ASF can carry the virus long-term.
Last week the disease was discovered less than 700 kilometres away in Timor-Leste.
Mr Meade sells his pork to restaurants and to locals in the region. (ABC Ballarat: Simone Smith )
Farm biosecurity plan
For Mr Meade, protecting his 26-sow operation comes down to a focus on biosecurity.
His plan includes disinfection of the hands and boots of all arrivals to the farm and thoroughly washing transport vehicles post-abattoir visits.
As per Australian regulations, there is also no swill feeding.
Barongarook Pork sells to restaurants and private customers throughout western Victoria and as yet, ASF has not been raised as an issue by customers.
“I don’t think it’s something the general public are probably aware of at the moment,” Mr Meade said.
Potential for opportunities, if ASF stays out
With the disease wiping out huge stocks of pigs, Mr Meade said there could be an opening for Australian pork producers.
“I think the opportunity would come if the other countries couldn’t control the outbreak and were left decimated,” he said.
“Maybe there would be the opportunity for the exporting of pork products to other countries.
“That could be tipped on its head as soon as African swine fever entered Australia as well.”
Mr Meade believed there was a growing interest among consumers to purchase local produce and said the threat of ASF could accelerate this trend.
“It is probably just another thing where people will go ‘at least we know we are getting the security of good quality produce locally that is free from any of these particular diseases’,” he said.
‘We haven’t had one single person ask‘
Fifteen minutes away in the local town of Colac, butcher Michael Murnane said there was no consumer awareness of ASF.
Colac butcher Michael Murnane said pork represents only about 5 per cent of his sales. (ABC Ballarat: Simone Smith )
“We haven’t had one single customer ask about it,” he said.
“We are more of a beef and lamb shop, we don’t sell heaps of pork, but we haven’t had one single person ask.”
Mr Murnane has had his shop for 18 years and said if the disease was threatening the beef or lamb industry there would be more concern as a lot more local farmers sell into these markets.
There may not be many customers asking about the origins of their pork, but Mr Murnane said occasionally some would ask for a specific brand.
He sources his pork from Ballarat and said he had noticed a change in pricing recently.
“It is getting more expensive over the last month,” he said.
“I’ve noticed with each delivery it just sneaking up that little bit, so eventually we will have to pass that on, but we haven’t yet.”
‘It is safe the eat the bacon on the shelves’
Australian Pork Limited chief executive Margot Andre said Australia does not import fresh pork or genetics.
She said the only pork coming into Australia was cooked and although the virus does not impact humans, it is safe at cooked temperatures.
Currently the Australian Government has banned products coming in from ASF-impacted countries and Ms Andre reassured customers “it is safe to eat the bacon on the shelves”.
There is also no threat to the traditional Christmas pork.
“At this stage we have a strong production supply which is not impacted by this,” she said.
“We’ve seen increasing imports over the last six months in preparation.
“The Christmas hams are safe and we have already seen them go into production.
“But the long term, it really does depend on how far this virus spreads.”
While the best defence for ASF is to keep the virus out, Ms Andre said “hypothetically” if it did get onto a property in Australia there were processes in place to lock properties down quickly to manage the spread.