African Swine Fever, a highly contagious disease with a high mortality rate and no existing treatment or vaccine, stands to devastate EU farmers.
The porcine disease was estimated to have claimed around a quarter of the world’s pig population last year.
But infection rates have climbed to worrying new levels so far this year. Cases of African Swine Fever among wild boar on the continent rose by as much as 85 percent in 2020, as compared to the whole of 2019.
As Europe enters the height of summer, cases of the viral infection are likely to continue to escalate.
Unless proactive measures are taken to stop African Swine Fever from gripping the domestic pig population, it’s possible that the EU will suffer crippling economic effects. After all, the EU is the world’s second-largest pork producer.
The recent outbreak seen in China shows the detrimental and far-reaching effects. An estimated 150 to 200 million pigs were infected. It brought pricing spikes, demand for pork imports, and also impacted food security and livelihoods.
Major European producers like Germany, France, and Spain must learn from China’s experience. It’s time for European countries to ensure measures are in place as early as possible, despite the current distraction of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Otherwise, the disease stands to ravage the EU pork sector.
The reinforcement of biosecurity stands as one of the most urgent measures needed. Countries need to take all possible action to prevent the disease from spreading into new territory.
We can also learn from the novel coronavirus. Countries with quarantine protocols, travel restrictions, plus established test, track, and trace systems, have best controlled the spread.
Similar strategies should be applied within the pig industry, including rigorous inspections of pork imports, quarantines, and in some cases, even physical barriers.
Governments, along with health and trade industries, should also stay engaged with pig farmers — especially small-scale operations — to make sure they have access to the latest information and guidance to protect their animals from the African Swine Fever.
The key to staying engaged is being able to communicate quickly and effectively.
Luckily, Spain’s Centre for Animal Health Research (CISA) at the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology has been designated as the EU reference laboratory for African Swine Fever research.
There is also work to develop the first effective vaccine advancing at the Pirbright Institute in the UK.
And despite ongoing pressure from the COVID-19 response, now is the time to take swift action. Although the African Swine Fever isn’t a direct threat to people’s health, Europe cannot afford to neglect the economic threat that this illness poses.