Concerns about African Swine Fever. Justified or not?

Published on
February 28, 2018

The risk of African Swine Fever (ASF) entering the Netherlands is currently assessed as low. Being alert and acting in an aware and responsible way on the part of pig farmers, hunters and private individuals in general are extremely important in this regard in keeping this disease out of the Netherlands.

African Swine Fever (ASF) is a viral disease that only wild boars and domestic pigs are susceptible to. The disease can result in up to 100% fatalities in a population. As the name indicates, the disease comes originally from Africa, where it is endemic. Germany is extremely concerned, especially since the spread of ASF to the Czech Republic and the region around Warsaw in Poland. Germany is even considering culling 70% of its wild boars by shooting. Dutch pig farmers are also concerned and are calling through their farming associations for effective and uniform measures across the European Union. In January 2018 questions on ASF were put to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in the Lower House of Parliament.

This report provides information on the spread in Europe and the Dutch situation, and provides tips and recommendations to the different parties.

Current situation on African Swine Fever

ASF arrived in Georgia from Africa in 2007. From there the virus spread to Russia and other countries, reaching the European Union in 2014. See the page on African swine fever in Europe for further details up to the end of 2016.

The virus ended up in the Baltic countries and the east of Poland presumably via Belarus. In 2017 it entered Romania probably through Ukraine. In 2017 the disease jumped across to wild boars in the east of the Czech Republic and the region around Warsaw in Poland.

Spread of the disease

Research into the spread of ASF in Eastern Europe indicates that human intervention played a major role, certainly in the case of large distances between two outbreaks. The virus is able to spread directly from animal to animal. The virus can also readily end up in the food chain through kitchen waste or slaughter waste from infected pigs or wild boars. This could for example occur from restaurants or following the gutting of a wild boar that has been shot. The disposal of (inadequately treated) products from infected animals into the environment or open refuse bins can play a significant role in the spread of the disease. In this regard, consider infected salami or dried sausage. In addition, indirect spreading can occur through contaminated materials. Ticks (especially a soft tick, Ornithodoros moubata, in which the virus also multiplies, but that does not occur in Europe) and possibly flies that bite may play a role in principle. However, this was very probably not the case in Eastern Europe. Human behaviour plays a large role in spreading the virus through food and contaminated materials.

African Swine Fever: how do pigs and wild boars become infected?

African Swine Fever how pigs and wild boars become infected

Risk of introduction into the Netherlands

The risk that ASF will reach the Netherlands is currently low. The risk that the virus will enter the Netherlands as a result of direct dissemination between wild boars can even be called negligible at the moment. The distance is still much too large for this. The risk that ASF reaches the Netherlands as a result of human action strongly depends on the extent to which products from infected animals or, for example boars that have been shot and brought back to the country, have then ended up on pig farms or among wild boars. This could possibly occur as a result of the disposal of (remains of) products of this kind, including dried sausage, salami, or remains from a wild boar that has been shot, into the environment (open refuse bin or straight into the environment) or by taking them along to a pig farm. The virus can certainly survive for up to six months, if not a year, in the presence of protein, for example in meat, and even longer in frozen products. As a result, even products kept for a long time remain a source of infection. Incidents of this kind are unpredictable. The risk can currently be said to be very low. An incident may never occur at all, but they are entirely possible - in 20 years perhaps or maybe even tomorrow...

Impact of African Swine Fever

The introduction of African Swine Fever into the Netherlands will immediately have a major impact. So prevention is better than cure. The impact on the welfare of the affected pigs will be large. Apart from that, it will have a large psychosocial impact on pig farmers whose operations have to be cleared out and on others involved. On top of that, there will be a major economic impact, as a result among other things of export bans (the exports of the Dutch pig sector are valued at around 5 billion euros, some of them outside Europe), the loss of (healthy) pigs and transport bans. For these reasons it is extremely important to prevent the introduction of ASF into the Netherlands.

Preventing the arrival of ASF in the Netherlands

In order to prevent the indirect infection of pigs from vehicles, trucks carrying the animals that come from infected or high-risk countries must be cleaned and disinfected twice. Read more about this on the website of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Feeding kitchen waste (swill) to pigs has already been banned for years.

Advice and recommendations are provided to various target groups with a view to preventing the introduction of ASF as far as possible (see also a number of recommendations below this article). Livestock farmers themselves can take measures to keep out ASF. Private individuals and hunters can also help to prevent the introduction of ASF. Customs also check passengers to see that they are not carrying high-risk products.

The Netherlands is able to combat an outbreak quickly

Should African Swine Fever be introduced after all, the Netherlands is ready to combat an outbreak rapidly. For pig farmers, nature lovers and hunters, it is essential to report as quickly as possible any suspect symptoms in pigs or wild boars in order to prevent spreading as far as possible. There is a plan of action that is immediately put into effect by the NVWA at the first sign of an outbreak with a view to combating the outbreak as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the event of a suspected case, samples are taken by the NVWA from sick animals at the relevant location as quickly as possible.

Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) makes its contribution to suppressing ASF by urgently testing these samples for the presence of the virus. WBVR also tests samples from pigs and wild boars for monitoring purposes, early warning and for diagnosis for exports. We coordinate the monitoring of wild boars for ASF, as we do for classical swine fever and Aujeszky’s disease. In addition, we carry out research for maintaining and expanding the expertise, and WBVR advises the government and other parties among others on ASF.

More information about ASF