Pork industry worried as African swine fever worsens

Concerns about African swine fever are growing in the New Zealand pork industry, as the disease shows no sign of abating in affected countries.

China, which produces half of the world's pork, has culled more than 200 million pigs, and the disease, for which there is no vaccine or cure is also ravaging pig populations in Europe and Asia.

General manager of industry group NZ Pork David Baines said there remained serious concerns about the impact of the outbreak.

"If anything they have got a little worse as the disease continues to spread," Baines told Rural Today.

"It is getting closer and closer, particularly to Australia, but also to New Zealand.

The levels of concern remain very high among our producers," he said.

The cut in supply has seen shoppers paying more for pork products, with imported products accounting for 60 percent of pork consumption by New Zealanders.

Latest figures from StatsNZ show prices for bacon in December were up 20 percent on the same time last year, while ham was up 14 percent.

Baines said it had a been a double whammy for New Zealand manufacturers and importers.

"There have been smaller volumes, at a higher price," he said.

Despite the gap in the market, there was no quick way of increasing production among New Zealand pork farmers, he said.

"Local production is relatively fixed, it's not the sort of thing where you can quickly lift the level of production - we can't respond quickly."

Meanwhile Baines said the industry was focussed on trying to keep African swine fever from infecting local herds.

"Ideally we keep it out and that would be the best possible outcome for New Zealand producers, to protect our herd and supply that premium market."

However he said it could be hard to achieve.

"The worrying part is that countries haven't been able to stop infected pork coming across the border.

"The reality is it could be when and not if."

A spokesperson for Biosecurity NZ said the threat from African swine fever (ASF)was being taken extremely seriously. 

It said New Zealand has had import restrictions in place for pork products for many years.

"We have been taking additional measures to ensure this animal disease doesn’t get to New Zealand since the start of the global outbreak last year. 

We have confidence in the measures we have in place to keep ASF out of New Zealand," it said.

Measures included the prohibiting of fresh and cured pork products from any country, and signage at international airports to alert arriving travellers of the risk of bringing pork products into New Zealand.

Commercial pork products could also only be imported into New Zealand if they met strict import conditions. 

"This requires measures are taken to ensure the products are free from ASF."

Fresh or frozen pork could only be imported from ASF-free countries, zones or regions. 

"All other pork products imported to New Zealand have undergone a heat treatment process, such as canning, which destroys the ASF virus."

Biosecurity NZ said it was important to note that live pigs were not imported into New Zealand.

"We are monitoring the situation and will change the import rules for pork products again if we need to."

There were also strict rules for feeding meat or food waste containing meat to pigs.