Government has moved to protect the local pork industry from the African Swine Fever which has been confirmed in Hispaniola, through legislation giving the Veterinary Service the power to ban the importation of pork products or animals from any jurisdiction that poses a risk.
Stressing that the virus has not reached Barbados or any other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country and there is therefore no need for panic, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Security Indar Weir said the authorities were simply ensuring they were ahead of any possible importation of the highly contagious virus.
The Animals (Diseases and Importation) Amendment Bill was passed in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, with Weir saying the intention was to avoid financial and job losses.
“You have the economic side as it would impact the farmers. Barbados also has a major processing plant that does burgers, hot dogs, bacon, the works, and if we were to expose this country to risk, that plant also would be at risk of closing down, laying off hundreds of people, going out of business simply because we would not be able to provide enough pork for then to continue at scale,” Minister Weir said.
“To the extent that we have not been exposed to the risk as yet, what we are seeking to do is to get ahead of the curve and therefore we are putting these measures in place to ensure that Barbados is protected from any chance of having the virus imported into this country.”
African Swine Fever is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both swine of all ages. It is not a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans.
The closest it has come to Barbados is the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
“It is true that the disease is not everywhere but it is enough to say that if it has been seen on the Asian continent and within Europe and now close to the Caribbean region, that we must put all systems on alert in order for us to protect our pork industry,” Minister Weir said, adding that pork farmers will also be called upon to “increase the biosecurity on their farms equally as we have to do it at our ports”.
He said a mapping exercise is currently underway to find all the backyard farms in Barbados to ensure they implement all the necessary biosecurity measures.
“This is not a simple exercise and we will work with the Ministry of Health,” Weir said.
He said his ministry will continue to inform the public about the risk involved and mitigating the spread of African Swine Fever.
Weir added that Barbados now has the PCR testing facility to test sick or deceased pigs for the virus. He said any tests done here would be sent off to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for further analysis.
The Agriculture Minister said increasing local pork production was also a plank of keeping the virus out, as there would be less need to import pork and pork products with more local production.