African swine fever variant ‘perfect storm’ of risk

10 February 2021
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations issues heightened African swine fever risk alert
  • Emergence of new variants of the virus reportedly detected in Asia
  • Australian Government steps up biosecurity efforts, urges more vigilance

The Australian Government is urging heightened biosecurity vigilance following reports of new variants of African swine fever (ASF) emerging in our region.

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the next few weeks in particular were critical to keeping the deadly disease out.

“The reported emergence of new variants of the ASF virus in Asia is concerning,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Variants are showing less obvious signs of the disease which increases the likelihood of it going undetected and uncontrolled.

“With Lunar Chinese New Year celebrations approaching, more gift items arriving and increased travel in the region, this is the perfect storm of risk.

“My department is aware of this developing situation and is pulling out all stops to ensure ASF does not arrive here, including interventions at the border, targeted operations to detect fraudulently labelled imported product, and conducting more testing of pork products seized through international mail.

“Changes have been made to legislation to allow increased penalties for travellers who do not declare high risk goods at the border.

“Other legislation changes also allow the Australian Border Force to cancel certain visas and refuse entry to Australia for serious biosecurity breaches.

“And we are making sure we are as ready as possible to act should ASF ever be detected here, running simulation exercises for the Australia pork industry throughout 2019-20.

“But maintaining Australia’s highly-valued pest and disease-free status is everyone’s responsibility.

“A collective effort is our best defence.

“While Chinese New Year gifts are brought or sent with good intentions some can introduce pests or diseases into Australia, including ASF.

“If these products are brought or sent to Australia, people are not only risking significant penalties for breaching our biosecurity conditions, they are also putting industries, jobs and the health of our plants and animals at risk.

“Commonly intercepted items include pork, which could carry deadly ASF, fruit, plants, eggs and herbs.”

If you are unsure about the biosecurity status of goods that you have brought into Australia or received in the mail, please report a biosecurity concern by calling our See. Secure. Report. hotline on 1800 798 636 or completing our online reporting form

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Fast Facts:

  • A total of 11,623 ASF outbreaks in the region have been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) since its emergence in Asia in 2018. See OIE ASF and FAO ASF webpages.
  • If ASF was to arrive in Australia it would have a significant impact on our pig health and production, market access for pork products and economy.
  • Between 5 November 2018 and 31 December 2020, 42.8 tonnes of pork products were intercepted on air travellers and 9.4 tonnes was intercepted in mail items at Australian borders.
  • test results for samples of banned pork products seized in a two-week period during September 2019, indicate that ASF virus fragments were present in almost 50 per cent of the pork products seized.
  • Further ASF testing is being performed on banned pork products seized at the border (international mail centres). Results of these tests are expected shortly. 
  • To date, 14 visas have been cancelled (10 related to pork products) under new biosecurity related visa cancellation powers (as at 10 February 2021).