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ASF Belgium: Now 457 dead wild boar; 2 men arrested

African Swine Fever problems are far from over in southern Belgium. In the 1st week of February more than 50 new infected carcasses were reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Interestingly, the Belgian police also made arrests related to the outbreak.

Between January 29 and February 7 in total 52 carcasses were found positive for African Swine Fever (ASF). Most animals, which were all found within the kernel zone in the southern Belgian province Luxembourg, had died of the virus according to the latest report to the OIE.

ASF close to Orsinfaing

Worryingly, however, 2 cases of ASF were found in wild boar that were shot close to the village of Orsinfaing. These animals were killed about 3.5 km north of the latest known ASF location, and close to the border of the kernel zone.

In addition, local media report a positive case of ASF found in wild boar near Mussy-la-Ville, which is at 2 km of the French border, more towards Longwy. This case, however, has not been shared by the OIE yet.

The 1st outbreak of ASF was reported in September 2018 near the village Étalle. So far, the virus has not been found in domestic pigs.

Arrests made due to ASF

Meanwhile, the Belgian authorities in Luxembourg province have arrested 2 men in the context of the African Swine Fever outbreaks in Belgium. The arrest followed the interviewing of 4 of them last Wednesday. In the context of the investigating authorities, officially no further statements have been made about the arrests.

In total, 2 men are kept in custody in relation to the ASF outbreaks. Most likely this is related to importing infected wild boar into Belgium for hunting purposes. Photo: ANP
In total, 2 men are kept in custody in relation to the ASF outbreaks. Most likely this is related to importing infected wild boar into Belgium for hunting purposes. Photo: ANP

It has been confirmed that 1 of these 4 persons interviewed is a forestry ranger, employed by the Public Service of Wallonia (SPW). The Walloon public service has confirmed this. According to Belgian press agency Belga, that person was working for the Walloon Department of Nature and Forests (DNF).

Local media: Smuggling of wild boar into Belgium

In the absence of further publicly shared information, local media have started digging and speculating what this all may mean. Most conclude that the arrested men are members of the Brussels high society and have been taken into custody on the suspicion of having smuggled ASF-infected wild boar into Belgium from Eastern Europe – perhaps even already in spring 2018. In addition, the men would not have reported the discovery of infected carcasses soon enough. Some media even mention names, families and connections.

The idea behind the wild boar transports is not new – in October last year that speculation already surfaced in a quest as to why ASF virus showed up in southern Belgium. The wild boar would have been transported to southern Belgium to bring some extra trophies for hunting for Belgium’s well-to-do, who like to go hunting in this forest-dense area as a hobby.

In Asia, African Swine Fever creates problems on a completely different scale. Find out the latest on these developments on our ASF minisite

René Collin, the Walloon minister for agriculture, nature and forestry, responded to these suggestions, stating: “If these repulsive facts prove to be true, than action has to follow with the biggest possible force.”

Belgium ag minister: Pig industry in crisis

In the meantime, Denis Ducarme, Belgium’s federal minister for agriculture, has indicated that the pig sector in his country is now ‘in crisis’ due to African Swine Fever. Even though not a single domestic pig has been infected, the presence of the virus has affected pork prices: These have dropped by 20% since September.

Having acknowledged the crisis, the minister can apply several policy measures in the next year, like temporary tax alleviation or even exemption. In addition, the minister decided to relax the rules for pig transport.

Apart from the pig business, also the lumber industry as well as the tourism business are feeling the downside of the ASF outbreaks. The minister expressed his views after a meeting with various agricultural organisations, writes the Belgian agricultural journal Landbouwleven.

Germany: Fear for ASF outbreaks

So far, no outbreaks of ASF have been reported from Germany, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a topic of conversation. On the contrary, the Germans also have a plan ready in case an outbreak will occur. The Germans’ main approach assumes a German outbreak will also take place in wild boar and centres around informing hunters and members of the public.

Read more about African Swine Fever in our Health Tool

Main message: ASF is not a zoonosis, i.e. humans cannot contract the virus. The next message is the economic importance of pig production for the country, as 150,000 people are (in)directly employed through the swine business in Germany.

In case an outbreak will occur in Germany, the approach will follow the example as in the Czech Republic – a combination of leaving the infected kernel zone alone and intensified hunting in the zone around it.

“Fences around all pig farms”

Last but not least – the directorate-general on Health and Food Safety (DG-Sante) of the European Commission would ideally like to introduce new legislation that will compel all pig farms within the EU to have a fence surrounding their premises.

Differences of opinion between various member states within the EU, however, are the only reason why there aren’t any regulations yet, according to Francesco Berlingieri, DG-Santé, at a symposium on ASF, held in Germany recently.