BRUSSELS – Belgium confirmed the presence of the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus in two wild boars in September of 2018. Since then, the Belgian Meat Office said the country has succeeded in preventing spread of the disease to domestic swine herds and captive wild boars.
In Belgium, all hog farms are registered in SANITEL which is a central national database. The country currently has 6.2 million pigs distributed across roughly 7,200 pig farms, according to SANITEL data, and 94 percent of the swine herd is located in the Flanders Region.
According to the Belgian Meat Office, intervention efforts started with the culling of domestic pigs in the area where the boars were found, and the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) implemented an “infected zone” in consultation with the European Commission and ministers. FASFC officers also began checks of producer registrations, and infrastructure and hygiene inspections.
ASF is a highly contagious virus that is harmless to humans but deadly to swine. It is a hemorrhagic disease of pigs, warthogs, European wild boar and American feral pigs. Swine of all age groups are susceptible to it but, currently, there are no vaccines against the disease. Mortality rates in a swineherd can be as high as 100 percent, and death can occur within two to 10 days on average. The virus doesn’t represent a food safety risk.
Outbreaks have been reported China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia. Czech Republic, Kaliningrad, Romania, Hungary, Latvia and Poland also have confirmed outbreaks.
In Belgium, the infected zone is close neighboring countries France, Germany and The Netherland. The four countries collaborated to prevent spread of ASF by ensuring exchange of information and establishing harmonized and coherent transboundary measures.
“Belgium has initiated a closer collaboration with the neighboring countries such as daily communications about the situation and technical meetings between wildlife experts of different countries,” said Jean-Francois Heymans, chief veterinary officer of the FASFC.
Communication throughout the supply chain also was part of the disease prevention efforts, according to the Belgian Meat Office. The FASFC launched a major awareness campaign to alert producers and others about the disease.
Preventive actions include a four-week quarantine of pigs introduced to a farm before they are added to a herd. Farmers must call a veterinarian when they observe pigs exhibiting signs of disease, and the veterinarian must examine all of the pigs within 24 hours. And pork producers must call in a farm veterinarian three times a year at a minimum interval of three months to conduct clinical examinations of pigs.
National surveillance measures include strict biosecurity protocols on pig farms, a ban on feeding pigs swill or kitchen scraps, and cleaning and disinfection of transport vehicles.
The result of Belgium’s efforts and cooperation with the country’s neighbors resulted in no infections in domestic pig herds. The Belgian Meat Office stated 1,539 wild boars were found dead or were culled within the infected zone and 3,450 analyses were conducted on pigs in the infected zone and none of the animals tested positive for ASF.
“In addition to the broad, national collaboration, we believe that a total transparency towards our neighboring countries, other EU Member States and Non-EU Members States is essential for the management of ASF in Belgium, Europe and worldwide and to ensure the necessary trust between Belgium and its commercial and other partners,” Heymans said. “Therefore, the FASFC continues to inform about the situation and the measures taken trough different platforms of communication.”