Since late summer, Great Britain has been fighting its first outbreak of classical swine fever in more than a decade. Thousands of pigs have been slaughtered to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease, yet pockets of infected swine herds continue to turn up.
Consequently, most of British pork products have been banned from entering the United States.
Classical swine fever, also known as hog cholera, is a viral disease of swine that can result in high mortality. Humans are not infected. Hog cholera was eradicated from the United States in 1978 after a 16-year effort by the pork industry and state and federal governments.
The last reported outbreak in Great Britain occurred in 1987. Until this most recent episode, Great Britain had been considered by the USDA as free of the disease.
According to the USDA-APHIS Center for Emerging Diseases, which is closely monitoring the situation, classical swine fever was diagnosed Aug 8 in a herd of approximately 3,500 six- to eight-week-old pigs in Suffolk County, England.
While infections continue to be reported in Suffolk-including one farm with around 5,000 pigs-swine farms in Essex and Norfolk counties have also been struck. The British government has responded by implementing surveillance zones around affected areas and enforcing movement restrictions on swine.
Great Britain is an importer of pork. Although not confirmed, the most likely source of infection is thought to be an infected pork product brought into the country.
In 1999, about 85 percent of Britain's pork exports went to European Union countries, primarily Germany, the Netherlands, and France. The top five countries outside the EU that imported pork from Britain were Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Poland, and the United States.
The Center for Emerging Diseases reports that the United States imported live swine from Britain in 1999, but none in 2000. Frozen pork was imported from Britain in 1999 through May 2000, according to the most recent data. Swine offal and hog bristles have also been imported. No fresh pork imports from Britain have been reported since 1998.