Meat & Livestock News

Concerns Rise Over Feral Pig Management Amid Foot-and-Mouth Disease Fears in Australia

Asian veterinarian working and checking the pig in hog farms, animal and pigs farm industry

Recent research in New South Wales has raised concerns about Australia’s ability to manage an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among its feral pig population.

The study, conducted by landscape managers, aimed to assess the effectiveness of culling feral pigs as a control measure for a potential FMD outbreak. The results indicate that controlling the disease would be a challenging task, with far-reaching economic implications.

The Economic Stakes

An FMD outbreak in Australia would have a devastating impact on the country’s meat export industries, leading to an immediate halt in all meat exports.

The economic toll is estimated to be around $50 billion over a decade. While Australia has successfully eradicated diseases like equine influenza and avian influenza in the past, it has struggled with controlling the varroa mite and the imported red fire ant.

The Disease and Its Spread

FMD is a highly contagious viral disease affecting a wide range of animals, including pigs, cattle, buffalo, and sheep. Feral pigs are particularly problematic as they act as superspreaders of the disease.

The most likely route for FMD to enter Australia would be through illegal imports of infected meat and dairy products. Once in the country, the disease could spread rapidly if feral pigs consume food waste containing the FMD virus.

The Trial

Lachlan Marshall, a project officer from Southern Queensland Landscapes, led a team that conducted a five-month trial in Nullamanna, west of Glenn Innes in north-west New South Wales. 

team set up more than 60 traps in a 5-kilometre zone, baited with fermented corn, molasses, and carasweet. Trapped pigs were sedated and fitted with GPS collars to monitor their movements. An intensive aerial culling programme was also implemented, targeting feral pigs over a period of four months.

The Findings

Initial observations suggested that the culling had a significant impact, but the final data showed only a 60% reduction in the feral pig population. “The amount of effort needed to control feral pigs in the event of an FMD outbreak would be enormous,” Marshall stated.

Expert Opinions

Heather Channon, National Feral Pig Management Coordinator, emphasised the need for consistent control methods, given the high reproductive rate of feral pigs. Ian McColl, biosecurity spokesperson for the NSW Farmers Association, also highlighted the risks, citing the UK’s prolonged struggle to regain market access following an FMD outbreak.

McColl has been advocating for increased biosecurity investment, suggesting a $10 levy on every 20-foot shipping container entering Australia as a potential funding source.

The study’s worrying results underscore the challenges Australia would face in controlling an FMD outbreak among its feral pig population. With significant economic repercussions and the difficulty of eradication, the findings call for urgent action in bolstering the country’s biosecurity measures.