The Senior Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mark Trotman says that although there are no reports of the highly infectious African Swine Fever in the country, agriculture officials are on high alert and have a preparedness plan hinged on four pillars to prevent, address and respond to the disease, if the need arises.
Speaking during a press briefing on Friday, Trotman pointed out that the disease affects pigs only, and therefore Barbadians are being encouraged to still eat local pork.
He informed the nation that while the disease posed no immediate risk to public health, it could significantly affect the pork industry and the economic health of the country.
Trotman shared that the Veterinary Services Unit had been monitoring the spread of the virus for the past two years, and “has been trying to make plans and put things in place to see how best we can address that risk, and make sure that we are prepared to, in the first instance, keep it out, and if it does enter, to be able to respond rapidly to it”.
The Senior Veterinary Officer gave an insight into the Ministry’s response to the African Swine Fever, which involved working with the water agencies, the travelling public and the farming community; enhanced biosecurity measures; business continuity; protection for the pork industry and sustained messaging to counter misinformation.
“So, those are the four pillars that we have around how we’re going to respond to African Swine Fever. The first step is to try and keep it out of the country altogether. So, we will be working and have been working with our partners at the borders…. Various border agencies, customs, port health, plant quarantine, vendor quarantine, all those agencies [and] commerce, who interact with people and goods coming into the country, to make sure that we have a shield around the country, [to] protect it from coming in now.
“We already have a fairly robust permit system in place to make sure that commercial imports of pork are screened and that permits are issued, so that we’re fairly confident that products coming in commercially do not carry the virus.”
Additionally, he emphasised that the Ministry’s passenger permit system required them to apply for a permit before bringing in meat as a measure of ensuring the products are properly screened and deemed safe for entry from a country free of the disease.
He also promised to ramp up, through public education, the issue of informal imports, where persons, through “ignorance or deliberate action”, bring pork products in their baggage or on vessels, without declaring it to authorities, or having a permit.
Trotman also touched on international garbage from aeroplanes and ships as a risk factor for transmitting the virus. He explained that scraps of pork, bacon and ham in the garbage were very efficient vectors for the virus and must be handled appropriately when they come in on the vessels landed in the country.
“So, that whole mechanism is what we call biosecurity, making sure we have mechanisms in place to keep it out of the country. The second tier of biosecurity is farm biosecurity. This is where we have to work with all farmers, whether they be commercial farmers or backyard farmers. Quite often, diseases of this nature enter the country not necessarily through commercial farms or backyard farms…. And if they do not have strict protocols for people coming into their backyards, or on to the premises; going out of their premises, they move from premises to premises, and this is a major risk, if the virus does enter the country,” he warned.
The Senior official continued: “So making sure that backyard farmers, and commercial farmers … are well aware of the risks and what they can do to protect their herd, protect themselves, their livelihoods, by simple mechanisms such as not sharing farm equipment; not going from farm to farm, unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do, make sure you sanitise your shoes, and your hands before you move from farm to farm. If you’re selling pigs or moving pigs from one premise to another, make sure that the pigs are isolated, for a period of time, before they go into your herd to identify any illness or any animals that may … enter your herd.”
He added that a meeting will be held with farmers and “the industry” shortly to apprise them about the progression of the disease, and the risks involved.
He gave the assurance that his Unit would continue to monitor the movements of the virus and place controls of any imports, adding that “any country that declares the presence of the virus, we will immediately put mechanisms in place to protect our industry”.