African Swine Fever spreads to Italy, gov’t moves to save country’s bacon

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Italy has put new measures in place to prevent the spread of ASF. GettyImages/4FR
Italy has put new measures in place to prevent the spread of ASF. GettyImages/4FR

Related tags African swine fever

Cases of the highly contagious viral disease have been identified north-western Italy. What measures are in place to limit its spread?

Italy is the seventh biggest pork producer in the European Union. Boasting around 8.9m pigs across the country, agricultural association Confagricoltura estimates Italy’s pork industry to be worth €8bn.

That same industry will be now be on high alert since cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) were identified in the north-western regions of Piedmont and Liguria last month. At last count, four wild boars in these regions were found to be carrying the disease.

Italy has put new measures in place to prevent the spread.

The threat of African Swine Fever

ASF is caused by a virus, which cannot be transferred to humans. In wild and domestic pigs, infection of ASF is often lethal, and if not, the virus commonly leads to an acute and severe disease. No cure or vaccine is available.

While cases of ASF have been identified in a good number of countries around the world – the virus is thought to have killed hundreds of millions of pigs worldwide – it is best known for its impact on China’s pork industry.

Since 2018, when China reported its first case of ASF, the highly contagious viral disease swept across the county. Market research firm Gira estimates the nation’s pork production was down approximately 27m tonnes between 2018 and 2019.

China serves as an example of what could go wrong when the spread cannot be contained.

Italy bans hunting in affected regions

This is front-of-mind for Italy, who in response to the recent cases, has taken action.

Most notably, the country has banned hunting and a number of other outdoor activities in the affected north-western regions. The exception to the rule is targeted wild boar hunting, which could serve to control their numbers and monitor the disease’s spread.

Mushroom and truffle hunting has also been banned, as well as fishing, cycling, and hiking in the 114 rural areas of the regions. The ban takes immediate effect and will be enforced for the next six months.

If the situation escalates, the Commission has a number of support systems in place. The EU has co-financed support related to the prevention, monitoring, control and eradication of animal diseases such as ASF which can be provided under the Single Market Programme Regulation.

Further, Member States can activate measures to address animal disease issues, increase biosecurity and support farmer under their rural development programmes. According to the Commission, compensation related to animal diseases is also possible within the framework of State aid rules.

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