MPI vet Naya Brangenberg
MPI vet Naya Brangenberg

Foot & Mouth disease (FMD) is in many countries but thankfully not in NZ. If it reaches our islands it is likely that there will be a cull of animals to try to prevent it's spread. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves. One protection is the regulation on feeding scraps to pigs.

The Biosecurity (Meat and Food Waste for Pigs) Regulations 2005 require that meat and food waste that has come into contact with meat is heated to 100C for one hour to destroy any bacteria or viruses before it is fed to pigs. The easiest way to do this is to boil it for an hour. This applies to household scraps as well as commercial food waste.

I've been asked many questions about FMD over the years and was delighted to be able to put these questions to MPI vet Naya Brangenberg.

How do pigs get FMD from eating meat?

Pigs can get foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from consuming meat products that have infectious virus present. Different animal species have different disease pathways of infection. FMD is highly transmissible. If pigs are infected, they can breathe out the disease (aerosolise it), and infect any nearby cattle like cows or sheep. FMD disease can survive frozen for over 40 days in meat.

Is it all meats or just pork products?

The Biosecurity (Food and Meat Waste for Pigs) Regulations 2005 don’t distinguish between different meat types. All meat should be treated before being fed to pigs.

Does cooked meat have to be treated or just raw meat?

If meat hasn’t been cooked at 100 degrees for an hour, there is still a risk of transmission. Even in an oven at 180 degrees Celsius for an hour, the internal temperature of most meat won’t go over 70 degrees. Immersing the food waste in water and stirring is the only way to make sure the internal temperature of the food reaches 100 degrees.

Why is food that can give my pigs FMD safe for me to eat?

FMD is caused by a virus that infects only cloven-hooved (two-toed) animals, which in New Zealand include cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, and llama.
Humans can’t catch FMD.

If I pick the meat out of scraps, can I feed it then without boiling?

No. Picking scraps off a plate where the food has come into contact with meat also poses the risk of risk infecting pigs with FMD. FMD is highly transmissible, so you can only be sure the FMD virus is treated effectively if you follow the treatment guidelines.

Can I bake food at 100C instead of boiling it (can I boil a sandwich?)?

Boiling is the only guarantee that meat is both edible and compliant in managing FMD risk, even sandwiches can be boiled. Roasting it in the oven or on a BBQ at an internal temperature of 100 for an hour will likely result in a very charred bit of meat, which will be inedible for pigs.

What about the nutritional value after treating the food scraps?

In general, food waste doesn’t give pigs a nutritionally complete food. It’s not a good sole food source and can create further issues like nutritional deficiencies, obesity, tummy aches, and diarrhoea. For example, parsnip tops for pigs can cause blisters and mouldy feeds can cause severe toxicity.

The optimum would be formulated pig feed with supplemented veggies and grazing in pasture. Also commonly practiced in New Zealand is feeding pigs milk by-products for protein. If you do want to use up food scraps, save your them for the chickens.

How can I tell it's 100C?

Use a kitchen thermometer and keep stirring so any cold zones are heated too.

Why an hour?

The way to kill most pathogens is time and temperature.

If FMD came to NZ what would happen to my animals?

FMD is an animal disease, so there is no risk for humans, but it can cause death for particularly young pigs and other cloven-hooved animals that catch it. It moves quickly and creates painful sores called 'vesicles'.

The skin on the tongue blisters up, then sloughs off, they drool and don’t eat. Any dairy production would drop in an FMD infected animal, they may get lame feet and young animals would quickly face high mortality rates.

The disease is painful and it’s an animal welfare issue. Treatment is not an option for a country like New Zealand and infected animals would be put down as we wouldn’t let them suffer.

Anyone who has seen the devastation it causes for families with animals like I have, is happy to take all steps to keep it out of our communities.

Can FMD come to NZ in other ways apart from meat?

The foot-and-mouth virus usually enters a country through contaminated animal products (such as ham, salami or waste containing meat products), which are then fed to susceptible animals such as pigs.

The risk of introduction of FMD virus into New Zealand in legally imported animals and animal products is managed through robust measures we have in place at the pre-border and border, that have been derived from risk analyses carried out over many years.

New Zealand doesn't accept uncooked meat from countries with foot-and-mouth disease and we have strict controls for all imported animal products.

The most likely route of introduction of FMDV into New Zealand would be through illegally imported meat.

I've been feeding takeaway scraps to my pigs for years and nothing bad has happened. Why should I change now?

Your pigs may have seemed to have loved having takeout but you will be breaking the law if the takeout includes meat. There are $5,000 fines for individuals and $15,000 fines for organisations who do not comply with the regulations.

Pigs fed unhealthy diets are also likely to develop health complications which can make it an animal welfare issue. Feed your scraps to your chickens and you won’t be risking bringing harmful diseases to your community.

What are the symptoms of FMD?

Signs and symptoms of FMD include: High fever for 2 or 3 days

  • Blisters or sores around the mouth, muzzle, feet and teats
  • Drooling, tooth grinding and chomping
  • Lameness (limping) or a tendency to lie down (pigs may also squeal when walking)
  • Shivering or raised temperature
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Drop in milk yield for cows
  • Death of young animals.

If you suspect FMD, call your local vet immediately – they will contact Biosecurity New Zealand's pest and disease hotline. If a vet isn't available, contact the hotline directly on 0800 80 99 66.

What is the penalty for ignoring this regulation?

There are large fines for anyone breaking the Biosecurity (Meat and Food Waste for Pigs) Regulations 2005. Individuals who fail to comply could receive a fine of up to $5,000 and corporations could be fined up to $15,000.

If it's so serious, why don't we hear more about it?

New Zealand’s layered biosecurity system works to prevent the introduction of diseases, but good biosecurity calls on all of us to play our part.

We have strict rules that control the importation of meat. Regularly imported meat has either been processed, treated or from country verified without FMD. Illegally imported meat fed to pigs can introduce exotic diseases such as FMD and African swine fever. Untreated meat waste being fed to pigs is believed to be the cause of the 2001 FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom. FMD is globally recognised as the most economically impactful animal disease.

This food waste for pigs campaign is run every two years targeted to pig owners and food waste suppliers. Biosecurity New Zealand works with industry, vets, farmers and many more groups to spread good biosecurity behaviours. This is part of that.

Why should I have to treat my pigs food waste when pigs are eating raw meat in the wild?

Wild species are unlikely to be eating illegally imported meat. Wild species are also more spread out and interact less, making catching and transferring diseases far less likely.

Can I feed my pig New Zealand pork?

The Biosecurity (Food and Meat Waste for Pigs) Regulations 2005 don’t distinguish the origin of the meat, this makes any untreated meat waste fed to pigs illegal.

What if I travel to a country with FMD?

Try not to have contact with FMD cloven-hooved (two-toed) animals. Biosecurity New Zealand recommends staying away from susceptible animals like cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, and llama in New Zealand for one week on your return home.

Many thanks to MPI for their help with this article