African swine fever detected in Belgium

UK pig producers are being warned to be on “higher alert” following the detection of African swine fever in wild boars in Belgium.

The Belgian food safety agency confirmed yesterday (13 September) that the disease had been identified in two wild boars around the southern village of Etalle, in the Belgian province of Luxembourg, near the French border.

The source of infection is yet unclear, but the agency said the recent spread of the disease could be the consequence of food left behind by travellers from infected areas.

See also: African swine fever guide and advice

African swine fever is a virus that leads to high mortality rates in pigs, but is not dangerous for humans. It is spread directly between animals and also in pork products. There is currently no treatment or vaccination for the disease, which has been spreading in the European Union, mainly in the eastern part of the bloc.

The National Pig Association said it was “very concerned” about the latest development and is urging producers to step up biosecurity measures.

Next steps

The Belgian food agency held an emergency meeting yesterday to identify control measures to contain the virus. Field monitoring is also being carried out to detect suspected cases in wild boars.

Meanwhile, French agricultural minister Stephane Travert has called for protective measures to be put in place to halt the disease spreading into France.

These activities include hunting restrictions and enhanced surveillance of livestock and wildlife in the four counties bordering Belgium.

UK situation

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) has already raised the risk level of infected imports reaching the UK to medium following a series of outbreaks in eastern Europe. 

National Pig Association NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Obviously we are very concerned. It’s a big jump and we are still trying to understand the detail of what has occurred.

“When wild boar get infected, it’s very difficult for us to know how many and how far it has spread. I suspect within the next couple of days the situation will start to unfold and we will start to know more about it.”

She said the Belgian authorities will now have to put control zones in place and control the movement of pigs and pork products out of infected regions.

In the meantime, she urged UK pig producers not to panic, but to ensure they have contingency plans and robust biosecurity measures in place to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to the UK as much as possible.  

She said the NPA was working with the government and have been for some time to ensure the public are aware they should not feed pigs waste pork products and stress the importance of cleaning up picnic areas and keeping bins tightly locked to ensure wild pigs cannot consume such items.