In a press release of 21 January 2019
, Russia's Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (FSVPS or Rosselkhoznadzor) lays out its stance on the causes of the rapid spread of the African swine fever (ASF) virus the world over.
The press release states that adaptation and decreasing virulence of the virus poses a major threat to the global pig industry as an increasingly large number of infected boars develop antibodies to the virus, survive for longer and may therefore infect more other boars.
FSVPS contends, citing relevant practices of the Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany, that massive culling of wild boars is the only solution that may prevent further proliferation of the ASF virus. In this context, Rosselkhoznadzor argues, the Chinese authorities, which are reluctant to take more resolute measures and resort to wild boar depopulation, do not fully realise the breadth of the problem and risk seeing the situation deteriorate dramatically .
After the first ASF outbreak was reported in a northeastern province of China in August 2018, the disease has been quickly spreading west- and southwards. The developments in China are monitored closely as the country accounts for about a half of the global swine population.
Last week, Rosselkhoznadzor released a 40-minute film
on African swine fever, in which it lays the blame for the spread of ASF in Eastern Europe and Baltic states on a failure to control wild boar population and cites "ineffective reduction of wild boar populations" as one of the factors contributing to the spread of ASF in Russia.
In the view of Russia's veterinary authority, so long as the ASF virus circulates in the wild, the threat of its transmission from wild boars to domestic pigs remains high.
Wild boar population control was one of the prominent issues in the WTO dispute Russia — Pigs
, in which the European Union (EU) challenged, among other things, Russia's ban on imports of pigs and pig products from ASF-affected member states of the EU. While Russia contended that culling of wild boars was essential to curbing the spread of the virus (and that, therefore, measures which did not provide for such culling were not effective in containing the disease), the EU argued
that rather than helping combat the virus, wild boar depopulation through hunting facilitates its spread: 'Increased or inappropriate hunting of wild boar worsens the situation and contributes to further spread of the disease, through animals trying to escape the operation
In one of its oral statements
to the dispute settlement panel, the EU said: 'One of the main divergences between the EU and Russia is the approach to ASF eradication in wild boar. Russia believes that drastic increased hunting intended to achieve wild boar depopulation may produce positive results. However, the only result that such increased hunting may bring is rapid further territorial spread of the disease, through the dispersal of infected animals. This is thought to be the most likely cause of ASF introduction into certain limited parts of the EU, from Belarus and from Russia.
The panel, basing itself on the opinion of scientific experts, sided with the EU. The panel stated
, in particular: 'In our view, it is of paramount importance to indicate whether the presence of the disease has occurred in wildlife or in domestic pigs. This is because, as the experts consulted by the Panel have explained, there is a difference in the risks associated with the spread of ASF disease through wild boar and through infection of live domestic pigs. Professor Penrith and Dr Thomson indicated that it is unlikely that wild boars will become the most important source of infection. While ASF may be difficult to eradicate in wild boar, controls on the movement of wild boar may be sufficient to reduce the risks of spread to and infection of large commercial pig holdings subject to biosecurity measures. It is primarily these large commercial pig holdings which provide the animals used in the production of products for export.
In the meantime, media reported
in mid-January that a wild boar-free 'white zone' will be established in France, along the border with Belgium, where ASF outbreaks have been occurring since last year. The two most recent ones were confirmed in January 2019 at about 1 km from the French border. The 'white zone' will be surrounded by a fence and patrolled by the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (NOHW) staff as well as hunters in search for animal corpses. The French minister of agriculture and food Didier Guillaume has called for 'maximum mobilisation' of the NOHW, National Hunters Union and National Forest Office so as to carry out a rapid wild boar depopulation in the white zone. The French army will be involved
in the operation and hunters will receive 100 EUR for each boar killed.
The president of France's National Pig Producers Union Paul Auffray expressed his regret over the fact that such decisions had not been taken earlier.