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Minister of Agriculture Zdeněk Nekula at the African swine fever conference: The virus has been spreading through Europe for 15 years, the public does not realize the seriousness of the problem

Oct 4, 2022

A successful fight against the African swine fever (ASF) virus is only possible if the public is sufficiently informed about the risks and preventive measures to combat the disease. This was stated by Czech Agriculture Minister Zdeněk Nekula (KDU-ČSL) at today's ministerial conference on ASF in Brussels. According to him, it is necessary to set clear rules for fighting the disease and to communicate and enforce them effectively. The conference was also attended by EU Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

"Europe has been dealing with the African swine fever virus for 15 years. Yet humans are still one of the major factors responsible for the spread of the disease to new areas. This is evidenced in particular by the quick spreading of the disease over distances of hundreds of kilometres, as was the case in the Czech Republic. The subsequent eradication of African swine fever on our territory has been very costly and difficult," said Agriculture Minister Zdeněk Nekula.

African swine fever poses a serious global threat to pig farmers, the downstream processing industry and trade, as well as to the feral pig population and the environment. In particular, the evolution of the disease situation in recent months shows that this is not just a problem for a few affected Member States, but for the whole European Union.

"In the time we have been dealing with the virus in Europe, we have learned a lot about its characteristics, how it spreads and how to counteract the pathogen. Effective protection of domestic pig farms has been implemented in a number of areas and two Member States have even managed to eradicate the disease. The Czech Republic is one of them, yet we cannot relax our vigilance for a moment as the virus continues to spread through Europe," said Nekula.

Early detection of ASF, in both wild and domestic pig populations, is key to combating it. This is only possible if the public has at least a basic understanding of the disease. Professionals in contact with pigs, such as pig farmers, hunters, veterinarians, biological or sanitation workers, must be able to recognise the disease early and take appropriate measures in the event of a suspected outbreak.

"Unfortunately, the public is not very aware of the seriousness of the problem. If we did not fight the disease, pig farming in Europe would be threatened with complete extinction. However, even some farmers are not aware of the biosecurity rules for pig farms. Experience in a number of Member States shows that small pig farms in particular are at risk. The introduction of African swine fever into these farms has a strong negative impact on the whole pig sector in the region," the Czech Agriculture Minister warned.

Europe must therefore look for ways and means to get relevant information on the risks of African swine fever to different groups of the population in the most effective way. The European Food Safety Authority's 'Stop African Swine Fever' information campaign is a positive example. However, according to Minister Nekula, much more needs to be done - clear rules need to be set up to combat the disease, and these need to be communicated and enforced effectively.

"A successful fight against the disease is incompatible with the current reduction of financial support to Member States. Ensuring adequate financial resources is absolutely essential in terms of implementing stringent measures, education campaigns and disease surveillance," said Minister Nekula.

However, he appreciated the importance of cooperation, sharing of information and experience, as well as coordination of action between Member States and the European Commission. While the burden of control and eradication measures (i.e. aimed at eradicating the disease) is primarily borne by the affected Member States, the Czech Minister said that education, increasing biosecurity and early detection of new sites of disease is a task for all. Today's ministerial conference on ASF will be followed tomorrow (28 September) by a meeting of the directors of the veterinary administrations of the EU Member States in Prague. The meeting also focuses on African swine fever as a serious European disease.

African swine fever is a highly dangerous, contagious disease of wild and domestic pigs of all breeds and ages, which in more than 90% of cases results in the death of the pig. The disease is not transmissible to humans. Currently, ASF is reported in domestic or wild pigs in 14 European countries. The outbreak of ASF in a given region causes considerable problems for pig farmers and the downstream processing industry, invariably leading to significant financial costs and economic losses - in particular the culling and disposal of pigs in outbreaks, restrictions on trade within the internal market or within Member States and third countries, or even a food crisis.

Vojtěch Bílý
Spokesman of the Ministry of Agriculture