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ASF Belgium: French panic as ASF virus draws nearer

The French authorities are getting nervous now wild boar with African Swine Fever have been found just over 1km from the Belgian-French border. The latest count by the OIE now shows 322 positive tested animals.

Despite fencing, African Swine Fever (ASF) seems to move closer to France every week. On January 6, hunters shot 2 animals near Sommethonne, at just over 1km from the French border which both proved to be positive for ASF. These animals were found outside initial fencing placed by the Belgian authorities. The latest update from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) shows that now in total 322 animals have proved positive at in total 183 findings. No domestic pigs were infected.

ASF close to French regions

As such, the virus is now very close to the French regions La Meuse and Meurthe-et-Moselle. French minister of agriculture and food, Didier Guillaume, met with his counterpart René Collin of the Belgian region of Wallonia last week, and also discussed with various stakeholders in the French hunting and agricultural community.

Mr Guillaume also visited the Belgian region in Luxembourg province where ASF has been circulating since September 2018. He stated: “Together we will have to draft a plan to reinforce the national battle against African Swine Fever, predominantly along the Belgian border. We ourselves have to increase the measures with regard to biosecurity in France and do everything we can to keep our country safe from this fatal economic threat to the pig industry."

An initial warning sign in Southern Belgium, after ASF had just been discovered in September 2018. This was mainly to keep humans out; ever since elaborate fences have been erected to stop the virus from moving into France. Photo: Jean-Luc Flemal | AFP
An initial warning sign in Southern Belgium, after ASF had just been discovered in September 2018. This was mainly to keep humans out; ever since elaborate fences have been erected to stop the virus from moving into France. Photo: Jean-Luc Flemal | AFP

As a first measure, Mr Guillaume gave the order to have a new fence erected at the border, similar to the ones that have been put in place on the Belgian side.

In addition, the French ministry of agriculture demanded that in an area of several km around the recently found wild boar, all wild boar should be killed within the next few weeks. That is done to create a so-called ‘white zone’.

Mass-scale cullings possible in France

Jeff Trebaol, veterinarian at the French pig union Fédération Nationale Porcine (FNP), said: “The situation is worrying us more day by day. Should ASF be discovered in just 1 animal, then we will have to think of mass-scale culling to prevent further spread. The consequences could be very, very serious. We are afraid that many producers may not survive.”

On the French side of the border, there are approximately 200 professional pig producers.

African Swine Fever in Polish wild boar

In the meantime, in Poland, shooting wild boar to avoid further spread of African Swine Fever has been causing increasing uneasiness. Late December 2018, the Polish ministry of environment decided that in total 185,000 wild boar in Poland need to be culled in an ongoing programme to stop the spread of ASF. The measure is not uncommon, as in previous seasons a wild boar shooting quota was also released. Already 168,000 of them have been shot.

Read more about African Swine Fever in our Health Tool

However, the measure, this year led to a lot of protests. A petition has been signed against ‘mass slaughter’, and both hunters and scientists have spoken out against it. It can indeed be called into question to what extent wild boar are the main cause of the virus’ spread – humans play a larger role in its spread. On top of that, the scientists said, shooting the pigs may lead to infected blood entering the soil, which could later form the source of a new outbreak.

ASF has been in Poland since 2014, after which the shooting of wild boar was increased. According to the ministry of environment, in 2015/2016 the total number of wild boar shot was 340,000; this was followed by 310,000 animals in 2016/2017 and 308,000 in 2017/2018.

With kind input from Ruud Peys and Stefan Essink

Read the latest on ASF outbreaks in Western Europe and Asia in our ASF minipage