Europe’s African swine fever crisis dramatically escalated on Thursday when Belgium confirmed the disease had spread to the west of the EU.
The arrival of African swine fever in Western Europe has long been the worst fear for many in the pork industry, in part because it could mean import bans from key non-EU markets.
Belgium’s food safety agency AFSCA said it had identified two boars carrying the disease around the southern village of Étalle. Neighboring France immediately warned of the high economic stakes of the Belgian outbreak and called on regional officials to ramp up controls to stop the disease spreading across the border.
Increasing numbers of cases have sparked concern in the EU since 2014 but the fever was confined to eastern countries, without any cases in Germany, the EU’s top pork producer.
The Belgian authorities said they were working at various levels of government to prevent the possible spread to pig farms. Humans are not susceptible to the disease.
African swine fever causes hemorrhages in pigs and is usually fatal. There is no cure, meaning farmers must slaughter all pigs affected to control its spread. When it was discovered at Europe’s second-largest farm in Romania in late August, authorities culled about 140,000 pigs.
Although the disease reached mainland Europe in 2007, it only breached the EU in 2014, in the Baltic States and Poland. It quickly spread across Eastern Europe, where food safety authorities have struggled to contain the disease.
Germany has gone to extraordinary measures to keep the disease at bay, dispatching experts to help advise eastern countries on how best to stop the disease from spreading.
Denmark announced plans to build a fence along its border with Germany to keep African swine fever out, despite its southern neighbor not recording any cases so far.
“In case of an outbreak of African swine fever, the export to non-EU countries will shut down,” Danish Environment and Food Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said in June.