By Daphne Psaledakis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union faces an urgent challenge in tackling an outbreak of African swine fever which threatens Bulgaria’s pig breeding industry, a Commission spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Ten EU nations are currently affected by African swine fever, with particularly bad outbreaks in Bulgaria and its neighbor Romania. Slovakia was affected by the disease in four backyard farms as of July.
“Fighting African swine fever in the EU represents an extreme and urgent challenge,” EU Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen told Reuters in an email.
Bulgaria, one of the EU’s poorest states, has reported more than 30 outbreaks of the disease – which is incurable in pigs but harmless to humans – at industrial or backyard farms. Around 130,000 pigs have already been culled.
The disease spread to the EU from Russia and Belarus. Most outbreaks occurred in small farms and were contained, although the European Food Safety Authority says it is still spreading locally among wild boar.
Bulgaria’s deputy agriculture minister said on Wednesday that the country has failed to contain the spread of the disease, while experts say Bulgaria could lose its entire 600,000 pig breeding industry.
The situation “is very worrying,” Itkonen told a media briefing on Thursday, urging action against a “catastrophic animal disease” which industry officials in Bulgaria fear could cause damages of up to 2 billion levs ($1.15 billion).
An outbreak of African swine fever in China is forecast by experts to wipe out about a third of Chinese pork production this year, or 18 million tonnes, twice the amount of pork exported worldwide every year.
There have also been outbreaks of the disease in other parts of Asia and eastern Europe.
The EU’s head of health and food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, offered EU support to Bulgaria when he met the country’s agriculture minister Desislava Taneva on Tuesday.
Bulgaria will receive 2.9 million euros ($3.25 million) in EU financial aid to combat the disease, Taneva said.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Francesco Guarascio, Susan Fenton and Alexander Smith)