Call for urgent action as ASF hits Europe’s heart

Vincent ter Beek, editor of Pig Progress (14 September 2018)

Countries in Western Europe have reacted with gravity and urgency to the discovery of African Swine Fever in 4 wild boars in southern Belgium. They all call for immediate action.

Initial news reports spoke about 2 wild boar being infected, but the official report to the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) includes 4 cases. In total 3 dead animals were found to carry the virus and a 4th was culled at a slightly different spot.

The Belgian authorities found the 4 wild boars near the village of Étalle in the far south of the country. This is the French-speaking zone with a lot of hilly countryside but relatively few hog farms. The place is located in the Belgian province Luxembourg, at about 20 km away from the border with the country with the same name, Grand Duchy Luxembourg. The wild boar were found also at 20 km from France.

The outbreak was reported by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC). Intensive cooperation is currently going on. Measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus, including hunting in the area where the infection was found.

Belgium: A time bomb for the pig herd

The Belgian general farmers’ syndicate (ABS) called for immediate action by increasing the hunt for wild boars in the area. The ABS said that pig producers in Belgium are very afraid due to the confirmation of ASF.

In a press release, the ABS said, “The huge importance of good management of the game population has been confirmed once more. After the visible economic damage in many corn fields in Flanders and Wallonia, and gardens being messed about, now with ASF a silent killer has entered Belgium and this is a time bomb for the entire pig inventory.”

The ABS continues to say: “To quickly be able to deal with the ASF outbreak amongst wild boar, we demand explicitly, and without delay, to move to general shooting of wild boars in Belgium. Only in that manner an outbreak can be isolated and restrained to the area where it happened. There is no other option possible for ABS.”

The ABS also reminds everyone to take care and to respect all biosecurity procedures on farms and all companies dealing with these farms.

France: Protective measures needed

The outbreak was found at a crossroads in Europe, as the French border is only 20 km away from where the wild boar were found. The French Ministry for Agriculture and Food called for protective measures following the reports of the outbreak.

The farm ministry stated that the outbreak in Belgium “represents a new progression of the disease.” It continued to say that this would require “an adequate response given the considerable economic interests at stake for the French agri-food chain.”

Stéphane Travert, French minister of Agriculture and Food, immediately addressed the departments bordering the affected area. He stated that some activities, such as hunting, should be restricted, and instead called for enhanced surveillance of livestock and wildlife in four administrative departments (counties) bordering Belgium.

His plan also included a strengthening of biosecurity measures to make sure the virus isn’t entering pig farms as well as slaughterhouses.

Germany: we are prepared for ASF

The German border is about 65 km of where the outbreak took place. Germany has traditionally been one of the largest swine producers in Europe.

On the website of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, minister Julia Klöckner said, “The new situation I take very seriously. ASF has been a threat for Germany and we are prepared for a crisis situation. The right instruments are there to fight ASF. Back in June, I have introduced a law, which can help us to top up existing measures to fight an outbreak of ASF amongst wild boar.”

She also emphasised the importance of biosecurity for swine farms.

ASF: A serious situation for Belgium

In the Netherlands, only 150 km north of where the disease was found in Belgium, agricultural minister Carola Schouten told agricultural sister title Boerderij, “This is a serious situation for Belgium. To keep the risk for the Netherlands as small as possible, we will monitor the situation continuously and we will look if all the precautionary measures taken are sufficient.”

She continued, “Transporters who transport e.g. pigs from countries where ASF is being found on farms, will have to be cleaned extra at the border. In addition, we are monitoring the wild boar population intensively in the Netherlands.”

EU: ASF is a threat for pig production

From Brussels, the European Commission responded: “The Commissie considers the battle against ASF as a priorty, as the disease is a threat to the European Union’s economy, in particular for the swine business.”

Belgium: Last outbreak in 1985

The last known outbreak of African Swine Fever in Belgium took place in 1985, reports the FASFC. At the time, 12 farms were infected, 185 farms had to close and over 30,000 pigs had to be culled.

Not only in Belgium, ASF is a problem. It has been a serious threat for swine production all over Eastern Europe for over a decade and since a month, the virus has hit China as well. It is to be feared that the virus will spread over Asia as well.

The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) coordinates industry interventions and collaboratively manages risks in the value chain to enable the sustainability and profitability of pork producers in South Africa.