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BREAKING NEWS

French army to help in effort to stop swine fever at Belgian border

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PARIS (Reuters) - The French army will provide logistical support to hunters tasked with culling wild boar in a border zone next to Belgium, as France tries to prevent an outbreak of a virulent swine disease, its agriculture minister said on Friday.

France has been on alert for African swine fever since the virus was confirmed in September among wild boar in neighbouring Belgium. The disease, harmless for humans, is often deadly for pigs, and outbreaks in eastern Europe and China have disrupted the pork industry there.

After the virus was found this month in wild boar in Belgium only about 1 km (less than a mile) from France, the French government announced plans to cull all wild boar in a high-risk zone by the border and put up tens of kilometres (miles) of fencing in a wider area to avert an outbreak of African swine fever.

"To cull rapidly wild boar in the 'white zone' and halt African swine fever, general mobilisation of hunters with the logistical support of the army," Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said on his Twitter feed.

The minister told France 2 television earlier that there were between 500 and 600 wild boar to be culled in the designated white zone and it would take two to three weeks.

Army personnel would assist by laying traps or rounding up boar for hunters to shoot, a ministry spokesman said, adding that soldiers would not be firing.

The boar-free zone spans 78 square km and will be enclosed by a 1.5 metre-high fence under construction on the French side, as well as fencing erected by Belgian authorities at the border, the French agriculture ministry has said.

France plans to put up in total around 100 km (60 miles) of fencing around border areas in the northeast at a cost of several million euros, according to the ministry.

African swine fever can be carried by wild boars but experts also stress that human factors such as transport, clothing and food waste can play a role in spreading the disease.

No vaccination or treatment exist for the highly contagious virus.

Last year's outbreak among wild boar in Belgium marked a sudden westward spread of the virus in Europe, raising the risk it would reach large pork-production countries like Germany, France and Spain.

Belgium has faced restrictions from importing countries on its pigmeat exports, although African swine fever has yet to be detected on a pig farm.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Julie Carriat; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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