German farmers face possible pig culls as African swine fever discovered

German farmers have been ordered to enact a series of crisis measures after the discovery of the country’s first case of African swine fever (ASF).

The arrival of the highly infectious disease, found in the cadaver of a wild boar close to the German border with Poland in the state of Brandenburg, is a devastating blow to farmers who have been at pains for several years to keep it at bay.

While ASF poses no immediate danger to humans, it can be spread quickly by animals and humans and is usually fatal in farm pigs and wild boars.

A danger zone will now be declared for several kilometres around the area where the find was made and will include land in neighbouring Poland. The nearest large pig farm is just 7km away. An area of at least 3km around where the cadaver was found is expected to be fenced off.

A strict hunting ban in the area of the Spree-Neisse district as well as a ban on harvesting corn in a radius of 15km has also been ordered. Agricultural events and folk festivals involving pigs are to be cancelled and dog walkers are banned from walking their dogs in the area.

Farmers face the prospect of a ban on exports of pork to non-EU countries. Asia is a huge market for German pig farmers, worth billions of euros.

A spread of ASF to Germany was considered to only be a matter of time, after the discovery in March of the virus in western Poland, around 10km from the German border. As a result, Brandenburg authorities erected a 120km-long electric pasture fence in an attempt to prevent wild boars from crossing the river there.

Ursula Nonnemacher, consumer affairs minister for the state of Brandenburg, said it was unclear how the dead boar had become infected. “We cannot say … whether it came over the border from Poland, or became infected by discarded sausage meat,” she said. “We must now make every effort to stop it from spreading.”

Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Klockner, appeared to play down the find after the federal research laboratory had confirmed the infection on Thursday. “One wild boar has been found in one district,” she told reporters in Berlin.

No decision has yet been made over whether pigs will now have to be slaughtered.

Germans have been urged to desist from feeding wild boars, which have become an ever frequent presence throughout states like Brandenburg and Thuringia as well as in and around the German capital. Travellers are also banned from bringing animal products into Germany from Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland or the Czech Republic, where ASF is well-established. Picnickers are being urged to take remains of meat products home rather than throw them into bins which are often emptied by scavenging animals and birds.

Undercooked or raw meat products such as dry-cured ham and salami are a main source of the infection. But vehicles, humans and dogs can also spread the virus.

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