Intensive farming and the spread of ASF
It is in the news every day. Pigs are either dying or being slaughtered by the thousands here in the Philippines because of African swine fever (ASF). It is spreading fast. We hear of measures such as 1-kilometer slaughter zones and pleas to stop dumping dead pigs into rivers or by the roadside. Is it enough?
ASF is a highly contagious hemorrhagic viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs. There is no cure and currently no vaccine. It has already spread from Africa to Europe and across Asia. It is transmitted through direct contact with live and dead infected animals and contaminated feed (also via insects such as specific ticks beyond Asia). Transmission also occurs through contaminated equipment and items: knives, vehicles, shoes, clothes.
Businesses are rightly concerned about the immediate and longer-term effects of this crisis. Pork prices have gone up and supply is becoming scarce.
But what about the pigs? Not much mention has been made of the suffering the animals endure. National animal welfare legislation exists in the Philippines, and international guidelines on the responsible and humane culling of animals are available. But if these are not followed, that can result in pigs experiencing unimaginable horror, pain and suffering for hours on end before they die.
World Animal Protection has previously provided technical resources on humane slaughter methods to authorities in the most affected countries in Asia. To prevent stress and undue pain, pigs must be well- handled and effectively stunned to kill them via electrocution with the trained use of regulated devices. Death by injection or other methods paralyze the pigs but don’t render them unconscious, resulting in painful, cruel deaths. Once dead, the pigs must be disposed of responsibly; dumping in rivers, the sea or elsewhere will contribute to the spread of ASF.
It is important to recognize the role intensive farming plays in increasing the impact of ASF and other agricultural diseases. It is widely known that conditions on intensive farms provide ample opportunity for viruses and bacteria to mutate and become deadlier. Diseases are likely to spread quickly through farms with densely packed animals like pigs or chickens.
Pigs in intensive farms may be more susceptible to illness. Their immune systems may be compromised due to the extreme stress of crowding and confinement, lack of natural light, fast growth rates, large litter sizes, being forced to lie in their own waste and lack of genetic diversity. Pigs are among the most intensively farmed animals in the world, and most endure a lifetime of suffering.
How did we get to a point where the suffering of an animal means nothing at all? Farm animals deserve a good life and a painless death. Pigs and other farm animals are not cogs in a machine. They are living, breathing beings who feel pain, suffering and joy, with an intelligence level comparable to a 3-year-old child.
It is tragic that millions of pigs have been and will be killed this year because of ASF. This is made even more heartbreaking by reports of pigs being killed in a horrific manner, including being burned or buried alive. In fact, most pigs in this Asian outbreak are likely not to have been killed humanely. And while we understand the need to move swiftly, there really is no excuse for cruelty, either during routine slaughter or in emergency situations.
If you want to have that lechón this Christmas, it is time to get involved in a conversation about how we can build up a farming system that is good for the people, the environment and the animals.
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Mark Dia is global director for the Animals in Farming Programme of World Animal Protection.
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