African Swine Fever enters Western Europe
Last week, African Swine Fever (ASF) was confirmed in wild boar in Belgium for the first time. The official report to the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) indicates 4 cases have been discovered so far, with 3 dead animals found and a further individual culled in Étalle, less than 20km from the border with both France and Luxembourg. This outbreak is particularly significant, as it is the first time in ASF has been discovered in Western Europe in over a decade.
It is so far unclear how ASF reached this part of Belgium, which is around 1,000km from the nearest location also known to harbour the virus in the Czech Republic. The distance apparently travelled is concerning, as is the proximity of the newly infected region to other countries.
The new outbreak reduces the distance between confirmed ASF cases and the German and Dutch borders. Both of these countries have major pork export markets outside the EU, and these could be compromised by ASF, even if it only enters the wild boar population. Previously, a number of Asian countries, including China, Japan and South Korea, have moved to impose a blanket ban on imports of pig meat from countries with ASF, even when it has not entered the domestic pig population. This was the case with Hungary earlier this year, for example. However, so far no countries have moved to impose a total ban on pork products from Belgium. [as of 19/09/18 reports suggest that Belgian pork products have since been banned by South Korea, China, Taiwan, Belarus, Mexico and the Philippines].
Belgium is not a particularly significant exporter outside the EU, shipping around 50,000 tonnes of fresh/frozen pork to third countries in 2017, which is around 2% of the EU total. In comparison, Germany exported 400,000 tonnes and the Netherlands shipped 200,000 tonnes. As such, even if restrictions on Belgium were put in place, the wider EU market could probably adjust to compensate. This would be more difficult if one of the larger exporters was affected though, risking an oversupply situation in the EU.
Within the EU market, Belgium is a more important player, exporting over 600,000 tonnes of pork in 2017. However, within the EU a regional approach is taken to trade restrictions, and provided that the disease remains out of the commercial pig herd, trade in pig meat products should be able to continue unimpeded. There are fortunately relatively few pig farms in the recently infected region, and with indoor pig production and high levels of biosecurity characterising the Belgian industry, there is perhaps a reasonable chance of keeping ASF out of the commercial herd.
However, restrictions on trade in live pigs within the EU can be implemented in regions where ASF is present in just the wild boar population. Belgium exported over a million live pigs for slaughter last year, and nearly 100,000 weaners for finishing. Most of these were destined for the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Germany. This trade could therefore be at risk if ASF were to spread further in the country’s wild boar population, disrupting supply chains.
It is difficult to anticipate where African Swine Fever will be discovered next, and the potential for disruption to the EU pig market is significant. While there is nothing UK producers can do to stop the spread of the disease in other nations, upholding stringent biosecurity measures can protect the UK industry. To read more, click here.
Bethan Wilkins, Analyst
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