Biosecurity detector dogs sent to Darwin in response to African swine fever threat

Sniffer dogs are being urgently flown to the Top End to try and stop African swine fever (ASF), a disease which has wiped out approximately 25 per cent of the world’s pig population, from coming onto Australian shores.

Key Points:

  • The high numbers of feral pigs in the NT presents a greater risk of spreading the disease
  • Biosecurity staff at airports have uncovered 27 tonnes of cooked pork, which can still be infectious for ASF for up to two years
  • International travellers who bring in high-risk items can be refused entry to Australia and have their visas cancelled for up to three years

Following several confirmations of outbreaks in Timor-Leste, Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said on Wednesday she had requested detector dogs to be flown to Darwin to respond to the threat.

There had been no biosecurity detector dogs working at the Darwin International Airport prior to this decision.

Ms McKenzie told Radio National she had made the call as the disease moved “very, very quickly” and because Darwin was the closest port to Timor Leste.

The country’s capital Dili is just an hour and 20 minutes away by plane and there are nine flights a week directly from the island nation.

“At home, we’ve got 2,700 pork producers, we’ve got 34,000 Australians who have a job because of our pig industry,” she said.

“One quarter of the world’s pigs will be dead by the end of this year from African swine fever, which kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects and there’s no vaccine and no cure.

“It imposes an extreme risk to us. We’re not taking anything for granted.”

Ms McKenzie said that while it was not inevitable it would spread to Australia, hypervigilance was critical as the disease could spread through different means.

“That’s why we’re taking such tough action with respect to increasing our inspections of the high-risk pathways where ASF can get through and that’s through mail and also through passengers.

“We’ve uncovered 27 tonnes of cooked pork product in the process, which is disturbing, but it shows that the systems are working.

“People from affected countries may be visiting their children who are studying here as international students bringing product from home they think their kids might be missing — well, in fact, this disease can exist in these products for up to two years as cooked meat products.”

Ms McKenzie also highlighted the NT’s feral pig population, which she said presents a “significant risk” factor.

“That’s how we’ve seen this disease spread so quickly throughout the world. Pork producers have quite stringent biosecurity regimes on farm … but it is absolutely that feral pig population, which is endemic in Queensland, the NT and NSW as well, that’s how it gets spread very easily,” she said.

A spokesperson from the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture on Wednesday morning said two veterinary officers from the department were also travelling to Timor-Leste to provide assistance.

“Our vets will assist local authorities to identify the distribution or spread of the disease,” they said.

“And determine appropriate local biosecurity measures to contain the disease.”

Peter Spackman is the general manager of WA’s largest pork supplier, Linley Valley Pork, and told the WA Country Hour they were more than happy to help support the initiative.

“They really do a good job and we’re more than happy to sponsor those dogs and feed them to make sure that they stay there. They’re really our first line of defence in regard to keeping that disease out,” he said.

“Under the circumstances, and with the resources that we have, I think we’re doing everything that we can — but you can always do more.

“For us, in regard to African swine fever, someone bringing in some food items or sausages in their baggage could have a significant impact on our entire industry.”

Hunters and pig owners in the NT been asked to report any unusual pig deaths to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.


PHOTO: It has been estimated that African swine fever (ASF) will wipe out one quarter of the world’s pigs. (Supplied: Kameron Kincade (Unsplash))


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