On Sept. 13, 2018, African swine fever was confirmed in two wild boars in the Belgian municipality Etalle, a region where very few domestic pigs are kept. Since then, Belgium has succeeded in keeping its domestic pigs and captive wild pigs free of ASF contamination — thus keeping all its pork virus-free and suitable for consumption and export. What has been key to the country’s success? Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain says its transparency.
Following the outbreak, the FASFC immediately demarcated an “infected zone,” in consultation with the European Commission and ministers. To avoid contamination, the few domestic pigs in this zone were preventively eradicated between Sept. 27 and Oct. 3, 2018. The products of these pigs did not enter the food chain and were not used in the feed industry.
Belgian authorities have also increased prevention and surveillance measures through:
All pig farms must be registered with the FASFC, the competent authority. All pigs must be identified, and a register of animal entries and exits must be held. All pig farms are registered in a central national database: SANITEL. Belgium currently has 6.2 million pigs distributed over approximately 7,200 pig farms and 94% of the pig herd is located in the Flanders Region. FASFC officers are responsible for checking registration, infrastructure and hygiene obligations.
At the national level, a complete prevention plan is set up to avoid the spillover of the disease to the domestic pig herd. This involves physical barriers, prohibition of assemblies of pigs, access restrictions and application of strictbiosecurity on farms, prohibition of feeding pigs with swill or kitchen waste (even occasionally), cleaning and disinfection of vehicles that transport pigs.
In addition to the actions already taken on this issue in the past, a major awareness campaign was devised by the FASFC and the regional authorities, together combined in a National ASF taskforce.
Routinely, pig farmers must call in the farm veterinarian, three times a year at a minimum interval of three months to conduct a clinical examination of the pigs on the holding. The veterinarian will use this opportunity to check for any symptoms of notifiable diseases and question the manager on this issue.
Since ASF was found in the wild in September 2018, pig farm managers must immediately call in the farm veterinarian when they observe signs of disease in pigs or dead pigs. The veterinarian must examine all the pigs on the holding within 24 hours. Even if ASF can be ruled out, the veterinarian must comply with FASFC instructions and take three blood samples for differential diagnosis purposes, among them an ASF test. From Sept. 13, 2018 to April 2, 2019, blood samples were taken from 4,081 pigs on 938 farms. All analyses were compliant (negative).
When pigs are introduced into a farm, they undergo a four-week quarantine period before being allowed to mingle with the herd.
Belgium has also been in active collaboration with neighboring countries. The infected zone is close to Belgium’s neighboring countries France, Germany and The Netherlands. In order to prevent the disease to spread, the four countries joined forces through:
- Permanent concertation, collaboration and exchange of information.
- Harmonized and coherent transboundary measures.
- Cross-level cooperation: governmental, local, firms.
On Feb. 17, 2019 Belgian authorities announced the following results from these actions:
- 1,539 wild boars were found dead or were eradicated, all of them in the infected zone.
- 3,450 analyses were carried out on domestic pigs in the zone with reinforced observation; none of them were positive.
- During the entire outbreak, no domestic pigs were infected.
The Belgian Meat Office says even today, all stakeholders (farmers, veterinarians, authorities) stay alert to ensure biosecurity. In pig holdings, enhanced passive surveillance is maintained. For wild boars, there is an intensive search and removal of carcasses, ongoing eradication of the wild boar population and different fence networks are put in place (also on French territory).
“Belgium has initiated a closer collaboration with the neighboring countries such as daily communication about the situation and technical meetings between wildlife experts of different countries,” says Jean-François Heymans, chief veterinary officer of the FASFC. “In addition to the broad, national collaboration, we believe that a total transparency towards our neighboring countries, other EU member states and non-EU members states is essential for the management of ASF in Belgium, Europe and worldwide and to ensure the necessary trust between Belgium and its commercial and other partners. Therefore, the FASFC continues to inform about the situation and the measures taken through different platforms of communication.”