Pig farmers across Europe are on high alert after the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in wild boar in Hungary, Latvia and Italy during the second week of January.
In Italy, authorities announced further measures to contain the outbreak in the Liguria and Piedmont regions of north-west Italy on Wednesday, 19 January.
This included the immediate slaughter of pigs and a six-month restocking ban.
The new decree set additional rules within a 10km radius of the boundaries of the infected area, including strengthening surveillance, and the strict regulation of hunting and other agricultural and pastoral activities, national news agency ANSA reported.
The discovery of AFS raised fears of significant economic losses among local pork producers, with pork being a major agricultural export commodity.
Italy’s exports of pork and pork products amounted to about €1,5 billion (about R26,19 billion) annually, with about one-third third going to countries outside the EU, according to a report by Associated Press.
In addition, the meat of wild boar was used in pasta sauces in Italy, making these animals popular prey for hunters.
However, after a case of AFS was detected in a wild boar in the Piedmont region, the country’s health and agricultural ministers banned hunting and other public access to the woodland areas of parts of Liguria and Piedmont, in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus to more animals.
In addition, parts of these two regions were declared off-limits to bikers and hikers, as well as for fishing and hunting of game. The gathering of truffles and mushrooms had also been banned for the next few months.
According to the Italian farming organisation, Confagricoltura, importers in China, Japan, Taiwan and Kuwait had already suspended imports of Italian pork, while neighbouring Switzerland had also imposed some restrictions.
In a bid to save their pork production industries, other regions in the north of Italy were also appealing for a crackdown on wild boars, Associated Press reported.
According to the report, there had been a proliferation of wild boar in recent years, even in urban areas, including in some neighbourhoods in the capital Rome.
“The boars break through fences ringing parks on the outskirts of the city and invade streets to root through uncollected garbage for food.”
A total of 114 rural areas in the north-western regions of Piedmont and Liguria were being affected by the order signed by Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza and agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli, as four wild boars here were found to carry the disease.
The order, which took immediate effect and would run for six months, “will allow our production activities to continue to operate safely, providing reassurances regarding our exports”, the ministers said.