Livestock farmers in the UK are “appalled” by the revelation that the recent swine fever epidemic responsible for devastating the pig industry may actually have been caused by a careless pedestrian, or a hungry seagull. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture now believe, after weeks of testing, that the disease could only have entered the first pig herd through consumption of a contaminated pork product.

Experts have concluded that the particular strain of swine fever to have swept the UK originated in the Far East, which means that the most likely source of the outbreak is a processed, imported pork item. A pork sandwich, for example, revealed a spokeswoman from the MAFF, “or a pork pie or a Chinese sausage.”

The Norfolk breeding centre where the first pig became ill is near a public footpath where such a product could have been discarded, and it is also close to a beach where a seagull might have picked up a sandwich, which was later dropped in the nearby pig paddock. Just one pig guzzling a leftover remnant of contaminated pork would be enough, according to the MAFF officials, to lead to a crippling outbreak of the highly infectious disease, which is deadly to pigs but harmless to humans.

The Country Landowners Association responded to the hypothesis by reiterating the importance of respecting the environment, and by urging the public not to discard litter. Dr Alan Woods, deputy director of policy, said: “People visiting the countryside may not understand the dangers that lie in the most innocent-seeming actions and which can lead to widespread animal slaughter and the disruption or even bankruptcy of farming businesses.”

The effects of swine fever on the UK industry cannot be exaggerated. Financial loss incurred through EU bans has damaged countless businesses and fears were raised that many pig farmers, with resources already stretched to the limit, were contemplating suicide. So far, 35,000 pigs have been slaughtered after having contracted the disease, and 15,687 animals remain in the “very high risk” class. The outbreak, confirmed in August, was the first to occur in the UK for 14 years.

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