Pig sperm bank expands quarantine station to protect industry from African swine fever

Barry Lloyd is used to chortles when asked about his job, and it’s not only because he works at one of Australia’s largest semen banks.

It’s also because his only clients are pigs.

Over the course of a day, workers at the SABOR facility in South Australia’s Clare Valley stimulate dozens of boars to completion, yielding litres of the stuff known in the industry as “white gold”.

But SABOR is not just a breeding facility, and it has recently stepped up efforts in the nation’s fight against what has been labelled “COVID for pigs”: African swine fever.

A pig in a sty.
The SABOR facility can house hundreds of pigs at any given time.(ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

At any one time, there are hundreds of boars at the facility, and farmers pay board to send their animals there.

With products from the facility heading all around Australia, there is an obvious biosecurity risk to consider.

A $440,000 cash injection from the SA government has helped SABOR expand its quarantine station, which houses pigs for seven weeks and is deliberately located away from the main sheds.

“The owners of the farms declare there’s been no change in the health status before they’re allowed in and prior to them leaving.”

Staff are also segregated to ensure there is no viral spread.

The measures are being carefully documented to be shared and potentially replicated across the country.

Virus edges closer to Australia

Since the 1980s, artificial insemination has become the norm for Australia’s multi-billion dollar pork industry.

“On average we get 25 doses of semen from each boar, so where a boar would [previously] do a natural mating once, here that goes to 25 sows,” Dr Lloyd said.

Two pigs in adjoining sties.
Pigs spend weeks in quarantine to mitigate the risk of infection.(ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

But African swine fever — which has already wiped out almost a billion pigs worldwide — poses a threat not only to that operation, but the entire industry.

SA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Mary Carr is part of a national team working to protect Australia from the virus.

“When pigs get infected with that virus they do get very sick and will die. It has a very high mortality rate,” Dr Carr said.

SA chief vet Mary Carr gives an interview.
Chief vet Mary Carr says African swine fever is now on Australia’s doorstep.(ABC News)

Earlier this year, the United Nations warned of a new strain of the illness, and the federal government upped airport biosecurity.

“What that means for [Australia] is that the disease may not be quite as obvious when it gets into a herd now and may actually cause much more subtle signs,” Dr Carr said.

“Because the strain isn’t necessarily going to be so easy for us to detect in the herds, it’s really, really important that we do make sure that that border control is functioning at its highest level.”

A man pats a pig in a sty.
A boar mounts a dummy sow.(ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

The virus can last in frozen meat products for long periods and can also be spread by people.

Given that threat, Dr Lloyd said ensuring the highest standards of quarantine was critical to the entire pork supply chain.

“If we’re able to put [our product] out seamlessly, it means staff here have got a job,” he said.

“In turn, the farms that we supply [and] their staff have jobs, and then through the abattoirs and then even into the supermarkets, your fresh pork is still going to be supplied on a regular basis.”

Article credit www.abc.net.au