Stray meat snack may have caused swine fever outbreak

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The outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia which has caused destruction of more than 50,000 pigs has been traced to a sow which probably ate a discarded ham sandwich or pork pie.

The outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia which has caused destruction of more than 50,000 pigs has been traced to a sow which probably ate a discarded ham sandwich or pork pie.

Investigators with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (Maff) are certain the outbreak, first in Britain for 14 years, was caused by an imported meat product which probably used pork from Asia.

Their discoveries rule out earlier claims from the European Commission that the source of the outbreak could have been imported Asian wild boars. The investigators said the outbreak was based on a random chain of events which still remains unclear.

A Maff spokesman said the pig involved could have snapped up discarded food brought over the farm by a seagull scavenging at a nearby waste tip, or a rambler using a nearby path could have have thrown away a half-eaten sandwich or pie.

"We believe it came from an imported meat product and that it can't have come from an animal movement," he said. "But what kind of pork product it was, or how it was eaten by the pig, we just don't know."

Scientists have isolated the strain of swine fever to a variety first seen in Europe when it was imported eight years ago to Switzerland from China. The strain had never appeared in the Netherlands or Low Countries.

The British outbreak, which began on 8 August, has also been traced to one sow, number 857Y, in a paddock at a farm near Quidenham in Norfolk. She littered 12 piglets, eight of which died within the first week with the remainder suckled by other sows, spreading the disease. The sow also infected other pigs.

The National Pig Association said yesterday's figures put the number of pigs slaughtered at 50,700. Stock is still being slaughtered at 19 farms, with 13 affected by the disease. Pig transportation is banned across large areas of Norfolk and Suffolk. At the height of the crisis, which spread to Essex, 144 farms were affected.

Ian Campbell, an association spokesman, said it was unlikely the crisis would end before Christmas because it was still spreading. The major risk was that a third wave of infection could emerge, he said.

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