On 10 May 2021, some of the members of the DLG-Committee 'Pigs' met up online with the chairman of the Lithuanian association of pig farmers, Algis Baravykas, to talk about the current ASF situation in Europe. Besides the intensive hunting of wild boars, the discussions also covered possible ways in which the virus is transmitted as well as subsidies for farms.
ASF (African swine fever) is a perennial issue in the DLG-Committee 'Pigs'. The topic was already on the agenda at the winter conference in Berlin back in 2015, since the approach of the virus from the east had been under surveillance since 2007. At that time, Algis Baravykas was in attendance as a guest speaker. He comes from Lithuania and has been the chairman of the national association of pig farmers for a number of years. ASF made its way into Lithuania via Belarus in 2014. Initially, the disease only affected wild boars, but then also quickly spread to domestic livestock as well.
Six years on, Algis Baravykas, who is also a member of the European Pig Producers, reported on his wealth of experience and findings in combating the disease to the DLG-Committee 'Pigs':
Fence construction and hunting
Even before the ASF virus first appeared in Lithuania, the Lithuanian association of pig farmers had attempted to have a permanent fence erected along the almost 1,000 km long border with Belarus. At the time, however, the association was ignored at both the national and EU level, and consequently failed to find the funds for a fence. Once the first wild boars in Lithuania had become infected, the association reached out to hunters, and control strategies similar to those in Germany were developed. However, the intensive hunting that took place in the Czech Republic in 2017/2018 was not possible, since hunting is regarded as a hobby and acting as 'contract hunters' is looked on askance. Success has nevertheless been achieved in significantly reducing the number of wild boars in Lithuania. So far, 48 infected corpses have been found during the first five months of 2021.
Biosecurity and state support
In 2015, there were still over 23,000 farms each with fewer than 100 domestic pigs in Lithuania. These so-called 'back-yard farms' had almost no biosecurity measures in place, so it was only a matter of time before the first domestic pig populations became infected. Thanks to a state exit programme and educational work, success has been achieved in limiting these small farms to approximately 7,000 today and in increasing biosecurity on all farms. To accomplish this, a biosecurity standard was developed and is consistently checked at least twice a year on all farms by the state veterinary office. Part of the standard is that large farms are no longer permitted to sell piglets to back-yard farms, which was previously a lucrative business.
Since 2019, state compensation measures have been put in place for affected, large farms in Lithuania that suddenly find themselves in a restricted area due to an ASF outbreak on a small farm in the vicinity; these measures at least grant the farms differential payments on the basis of average prices. However, this support is due to be phased out at the end of this year. State payments are also available for the losses suffered indirectly by the farms due to wild boars, as the wild boars belong to the state.
Transmission by flies?
An evaluation of the affected domestic livestock populations over a number of years revealed a noticeable increase in occurrence during the June to August period. A study that was subsequently commissioned suggests that certain species of flies may also carry the ASF virus and might possibly be vectors (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mve.12499).
Protection against, and the control of, flies was subsequently included in the new biosecurity standard in Lithuania as well, as reflected by fly screens at all sty openings (incl. fans), for instance.
Not all of this can be transferred 1:1 to Germany, of course, but the behaviour pattern does bear similarities. Reaction rather than action is usually the case. Often, valuable time has then already been wasted, and certain measures are no longer possible. "Looked at from the outside," says Baravykas, "politicians in Germany are currently focussing more on animal welfare and environmental issues than on combating swine fever. This is also the case in Lithuania, but socio-political issues such as pensions and battling unemployment are on the government's agenda here." He concludes by stating "If a state is serious about combating swine fever, maximum attention and determination are needed here, too."
In the concluding discussion, it was agreed that looking forward is now required to stop ASF from spreading to the west. Political will is important. Pressure must therefore continue to be exerted on the parties responsible at federal and state level. The DLG-Committee 'Pigs' will draw up a position paper on this and also engage in dialogue with other associations regarding this issue.