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Is Europe Heading for Crisis over African Swine Fever?

07 February 2014

ANALYSIS - The discovery of African Swine Fever (ASF) in wild boars in Lithuania is plunging the European pig meat market into crisis, writes Chris Harris.

One of the immediate effects was for Russia to immediately shut its borders to any imports of piglets, breeding stock or pig meat from any country within the EU.

Ostensibly, the Russian authorities put the blanket ban on EU pig meat exports because the export certificates no longer fulfilled their terms and conditions. The certificates state that the European Union is free from ASF.

In a telephone conversation with Bernard van Goethem, Director of Department of DG Health and Consumers of the European Commission, Sergey Dankvert, the head of the Russian Veterinary Authorities, said that they had to need to stop certification of exported products intended for Russia by the EU Veterinary Service because of the EU’s failure to fully comply with the requirements of the bilateral Memorandum signed in 2006 as well as with the provisions of the certification.

“In particular, it is referred to box 4.3 of the Animal Health Certificate accompanying the product, by which the product should be manufactured in the area free from inter alia African swine fever. In the context of ASF introduction into the EU through Lithuania this fact automatically makes the EU not free from the disease,” Rosselkhoznador said.

At the time it was agreed that the most practicable way to solve the issue would be regionalisation of the EU territory according to the recommendations of the World Organization for Animal Health.

One of the major exporters hit hardest by the new ban on pig meat exports is Denmark, who between January and September last year saw their exports to Russia rise by 40 per cent, to more than 56,000 tonnes.

A statement from the Danish Agriculture Ministry said took an optimistic view that the ban was merely a technical issue.

“The certificates do not reflect the new situation in Lithuania and cannot be issued.

“The EU Commission and the Russian Federation negotiated the certificates in 2006, applying to all EU-countries. The Commission is working with the Russian Federation/ Customs Union to find a solution for the certificates so export can be reopened as soon as possible.

“It should be noted that the temporary situation regarding exports from Denmark to the Russian Federation/ Customs Union does not reflect any veterinary risk from animals and their products but only a technical issue of the wording in the certificates.

“Denmark has never experienced African Swine Fever but to exercise the utmost precaution both the authorities and the Danish agricultural industry has increased the awareness with regard to the risk imposed by the detection of the disease in Lithuania.”

Immediately following the discovery by the National Food and Veterinary Risk Assessment Institute that samples from two boars in Varenos and Šalcininkai regions of Lithuania were found positive for African swine fever virus, a risk zone including Alytaus, Lazdijai, Druskininkai, Varenos, Šalcininkai regions was established and anti-epidemic protective measures were implemented in the risk zone.

Control over pig keeping facilities and biosecurity levels on pig farms were enhanced in the whole of Lithuania and active ASF monitoring is being implemented.

The major concerns arising out of the outbreak in Lithuania is that the disease has now spread from Russia to Continental Europe within the wild boar population.

And Rosselkhoznador says that the outbreak poses a real risk of rapid disease spread within the European wild boar population (Sus scrofa).

“Recent experience has shown that wild boar is one of the factors responsible for ASF virus spread through the Russian territory.”

There are an estimated 60,000 to 65,000 wild boars in Lithuania, based on the Lithuanian Veterinary Service data.

There are about 250,000 wild boars in Poland.

According to the FAO data, there are about 4.5 million wild boars in the European Union.

These data shows that the wild boar population density is 10 times higher in the Central European countries than in Russia so the risk of rapid virus spreading is higher too.

The discovery triggered a series of phone conversations between the Russian veterinary authorities and veterinary officials in the neighbouring states as well as the European Commission.

The European Commission’s DG SANCO Deputy Head Ladislav Miko together with the veterinary authorities from the Baltic states and Poland told the Russian veterinary authorities that the disease outbreak could be regionalised in Lithuania and products originating from the other EU-countries could be considered safe and appropriate for export to the CU territory without any restrictions.

However, Sergey Dankvert said that the information that had been so far provided by the European Commission on monitoring morbidity in wild boars in the other Baltic States and Poland was not sufficient to substantiate these claims.

Mr Dankvert said that a Rosselkhoznadzor expert is currently in Lithuania and as soon as he returns to Russia, at the end of this week, a risk of further ASF spread will be assessed for wild boar populations in the Baltic-Polish region.

The Russians are also concerned that there is also a risk of the spread of the disease from Ukraine.

All the veterinary heads from the EC, Baltic and Polish region and the CU states are due to meet this week in Moscow in a bid to reach an agreement on regionalisation, but already pork products that had been sent to Russia from Lithuania, some produced in Germany, before the outbreak have been detained and sent back to the traders.

Further Reading

Find out more information on African Swine Fever by clicking here.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock



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