African Swine Fever, ASF, is a disease transmitted from wild boar to farmed pigs. There's no risk to us, ASF can't infect humans, but it does cause huge economic problems and Poland is currently on the front line. Find out in Unreported Europe what is being done to stop the spread of the disease.
COVID-19 is not the only virus causing problems in Europe, there's also African Swine Fever, ASF, which is a disease transmitted from wild boar to farmed pigs.
There's no risk to us, ASF can't infect humans, but it does cause huge economic problems and Poland is currently on the front line
Originally, a cargo ship brought ASF with it from Africa to Georgia in 2007. It then spread through Russia and Eastern Europe and entered Poland in 2014. Recently the disease has reached Poland’s border with Germany.
Tomasz Zdrojewski coordinates Poland's anti-hunting NGO and showed Euronews where hunters had found wild boar.
“This is the place where a group was hunting," said Zdrojewski. "A few weeks ago they dragged dead animals through the field. Here we see smears of blood, dozens of meters long. That’s a real problem because other wild boar will become infected with this blood.”
Some Polish hunters do not respect European rules on handling dead animals which were put in place to slow the spread of the infection.
“The problem is group hunting," added Zdrowjeski. "Scared animals rush to other regions, which takes the epidemic west. There have been many hunts taking place here, despite group hunts being banned in this buffer zone.”
Looking at mobile phone video of hunters with a dead boar, Zdrojewski explains the problems.
“They are cutting the wild boar without special cloth, without respecting the regulations; blood is everywhere, and their car is standing there in the blood.”
Pig farmer in western Poland
In western Poland, in a small town of Miedzyrzecz, Pawel Egrowski exports pig meat to the UK and Japan.
When wild boar carrying the ASF pathogen was found in his region, Egrowski immediately sold all his 9,000 pigs. Then he increased protection measures.
“Biosecurity is really important because cars come from other locations," said Egrowski. "There is a real obligation to disinfect them first by driving over this special mat to clean the wheels. On top of that, we spray disinfection all over the sides of the car.”
Recently he met the Polish agriculture minister and says farmers like the government's plan to kill 90 percent of Poland's wild boar.
A law now authorizes the use of silencers and if needed, the army can get involved.
Earlier this year, after fencing off the region, some 2,000 wild boar were shot nearby.
Egrowski receives state support to switch to less intensive pig farming, with just half the livestock he had before.
He supports the current government's approach to dealing with ASF, but criticises their predecessors.
“The problem with the previous government was that they never had the money for building wild boar fences, or for mass shootings," added Egrwoski. "That was the reality of the former Civic Platform government. They just repeated: no money, no money.”
Wild boars are good swimmers. In March a sick animal was found just ten kilometers from the Polish-German border at a river. So to keep the boar and ASF out of Germany the region's authorities quickly built a wild-boar-fence.
A barrier 130 kilometre in length, aims to protect the border with the Saxony region.
Dirk Wurfel, Group leader at the Technical Relief Agency (Civil Protection Agency) has been installing a barrier to stop wild boar crossing the German border.
If just one single case of ASF is detected on German territory, the country will be banned from exporting pigs to China.
Dutch and Danish farmers are afraid too, as it’s big business.
So Dirk's team protects the whole of the western European pig farming community.
Wurfel shows us an electric fence designed to deter wild boar: "We use the colour blue as scientists have found that wild boar can see the colour blue really well. We also put a special ribbon on the fence, which moves and produces noise in the wind.”
Then when a hunter finds a dead wild boar, they must tell the authorities. They also take samples with a special tool kit.
Researchers at Dresden
Disease researchers in Dresden then examine the organic samples. The team is part of a lab network, covering the whole territory of the European Union. Their main objective is to detect the ASF virus.
The government has created a special task force, which is ready to trigger tough quarantine measures on pig farms.
Dietrich Pohle, a veterinarian in Saxony, said it's only transmitted from wild boar to pigs. "The African Swine Fever is just dangerous for wild boars and other pigs, but for humans, it's completely harmless. But there is another risk. Products containing meat from sick pigs, such as sausages, can transport the disease over long distances."
Pig farmer in eastern Poland
In east Poland, in the town of Ges, Andrezej Waszczuk is a third-generation pig farmer who worries that the family tradition could end soon.
In 2019, around 35,000 pigs had to be culled in northeastern Poland because of ASF.
Early this year in western Poland another 24,000 were slaughtered.
Andrezej blames the government for not providing search missions to detect dead wild boar.
“The bodies of the dead wild boar are not destroyed in time, they are just laying around out there for too long, the authorities collect them sometimes after three or four days… This makes local farmers here, like me, really angry. Before the outbreak of the disease, we had some 2000 swine farmers in our county. Now today there are just around 600 who’ve survived.”
Poland and Germany are increasing their cooperation against the infection.
Fencing-in border regions plus work at the lab can help, but the disease still threatens economic catastrophe for pig farmers.
This report was filmed before the Cover-19 pandemic confinement measures were imposed in Europe.
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