African Swine Fever Reaches Western Europe in Blow to EU Pork Exports
TWO cases of African swine fever have been identified in wild boars in Belgium – sparking fears of an ban on exports to non-EU countries which would come as a crippling blow to the pork industry.
And the news has also prompting neighbouring France to call for measures to prevent the disease spreading further.
Swine fever – which humans are not susceptible to – is a viral infection which causes haemorrhages in pigs, and which is usually fatal.
The disease has been present in Eastern Europe for several years – but this is the first time it has been identified in the west of the continent, in this instance in Wallonia near the French border.
There is no vaccination or cure, and when it was discovered at Europe’s second-largest farm in Romania at the end of last month, authorities culled about 140,000 pigs.
Germany – the EU’s largest exporter of pork – has sent experts to eastern Europe to advise on how best to stop its spread.
And Denmark – another country closely associated with the pork industry – has even announced plans for a fence along its border with Germany to keep the virus out.
A statement issued by France’s Ministry of Agriculture said: “The confirmation today of the presence of the virus in Belgium (in the west of the EU) represents a new progression of the disease, which requires an adequate response given the considerable economic interests at stake for the French agri-food chain.”
Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert is asking for restrictions on some activities such as hunting and has called for enhanced surveillance of livestock and wildlife in four administrative regions which border Belgium.
The plan also included a strengthening of measures to prevent the virus from entering pig farms and slaughterhouses.
A statement issued by Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) stressed the fight against the disease was not a public health issue but rather an animal and economic health issue.
It added: “This virus can be transmitted easily from one animal to another either through close contacts between individuals, or by contaminated equipment (transport equipment, boots, etc) or via food remains carrying the virus and abandoned by humans.
“In recent months, it has spread more rapidly and further west, affecting countries that were previously unscathed, and many outreach communications have already been held in this regard in Belgium and Europe at the level of farmers , hunters and the general public.
“The latest contaminations in Europe could be the consequence of introducing leftover food left behind by travelers from infected areas.”
Wildlife control and prevention measures within pig farms were now being implemented at the regional and federal levels, the statement said.
It added: “Biosecurity in pig farms is essential and the FASFC ensures that it is permanently properly insured.
“The situation is taken very seriously by the various authorities and levels of power in Belgium and the measures are carefully put in place and monitored, given the potential impact for the livestock and hunting sectors.
“A national task force was set up in early 2018 in this context.
“The different levels of power will continue to work closely together to maximise the effectiveness of prevention and control measures.”
Advice published on the www.gov.uk website on August 14 describes African swine fever as a highly contagious viral disease of pigs which is currently spreading in eastern and central Europe and has recently been found in China”.
It warned: “If the disease were to reach the UK it would have a devastating effect on our export market and would also mean the humane culling of pigs on infected premises to prevent further spread.”
Mandy Nevel, veterinary manager with Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) which offers support to Britain's food producers, said: “It is extremely concerning that African Swine Fever has been identified in Belgium. It is important to stress that ASF only affects pigs and wild boars, not humans, but it is a severe disease for those animals.
“The first priority now is to ensure that this virus does not spread further and I would urge all pig producers to ensure their biosecurity is tight, particularly in regards to vehicles, animals and people coming onto their units.
“We know that ASF can be spread through contaminated human food, so it is important to remain vigilant and discourage all farm workers from discarding human food into fields or areas where pigs or wild boar could get access.
“We need all pig producers, farmers as well as members of the public to pull together to tighten defences and to keep this disease out.”
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