Picture: 123RF/SERG GRIGORENKO
Picture: 123RF/SERG GRIGORENKO

Berlin — African swine fever, a deadly pig disease, has materialised in Germany for the first time, threatening to hammer exports from Europe’s biggest pork-producing nation.

A confirmed case of African swine fever has been identified in the eastern state of Brandenburg, agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner said on Thursday at a briefing in Berlin. The virus, which kills most infected pigs within 10 days but is not harmful to humans, was detected in the corpse of a wild boar found near the Polish border.

Tests were conducted at Germany’s animal health institute and sensitive areas will now be cordoned off to try to prevent the disease spreading, Kloeckner said.

A key supplier to China, the largest consumer, Germany had stepped up efforts to prevent the disease from entering the country since it emerged in western Poland late in 2019. That included training dogs to sniff out dead wild boar, stockpiling electric fences along the eastern border and urging drivers not to toss ham-sandwich scraps out the window.

Eastern Europe has dealt with African swine fever outbreaks for several years, and neighbouring Belgium has also seen cases in wild animals since 2018.

The African swine fever case in Brandenburg deals a further blow to Germany as it struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. A nationwide lockdown plunged the economy into its worst recession since World War 2 and activity is not  expected to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2021 at the earliest.

Germany’s largest pork plant was shuttered for a month after more than 1,000 workers tested positive for Covid-19, and additional abattoirs also faced temporary closures from outbreaks. That’s kept output below normal levels and meat producers throughout Europe and the Americas saw similar problems as abattoirs became hotspots for the virus.

German pork exports to countries outside the EU stand to be disrupted as it no longer meets the requirements of most veterinary certificates, according to the DBV farm lobby. Sales within the bloc are still possible under certain conditions.

A verified case could bring German exports outside the EU to a “fairly rapid halt,” Justin Sherrard, an animal-protein strategist at Rabobank, said before Kloeckner’s announcement. That may benefit sales from other European shippers, including Spain or Denmark, as well as US, Canada or Brazil.

That would come at a time when Chinese purchases have been surging as the nation attempts to rebuild its own herds after outbreaks there decimated production. The US department of agriculture expects global pork shipments to climb by almost a fifth compared with 2019.

South Korea, the EU’s fourth-largest pork buyer, announced a ban on pork imports from Germany.

Restrictions on German exports could add to tailwinds for US shipments, with increased sales of US pork and poultry to China one of the few bright spots for the sector hit by coronavirus-related disruptions. Shares of Tyson Foods  and Sanderson Farms  each rose more than 5%.

Kloecker said Germany informed China overnight of the outbreak, but declined to comment further. China accounted for more than half of EU pork exports in the first six months of the year, government data show.

German sales in the EU would be protected by using “regionalisation” rules to contain the outbreak and maintain trade within the bloc, Kloeckner said. Germany will ring-fence the state of Brandenburg where the case occurred, banning pork-product and livestock shipments, she said.

While it is possible some nations may restrict imports on a regional instead of national basis, many key Asian markets banned Belgian supplies after an outbreak in 2018.

More cases in wild pigs are likely as the disease is highly infectious and there’s no vaccine. It can be spread by direct contact between sick and healthy animals, as well as through feeding on garbage containing infected meat and by soft ticks.

“There’s no question that we expect it to continue to creep across Germany,” Claxton said. “Once it’s in wild boar in the forests there, it can be very difficult to control.”

Neighbouring Poland has recently seen a rise in cases, including more than 80 this year at domestic pig farms or backyard holdings. European Commission estimates show the nation has more than 3,000 confirmed infections, mostly in wild boar.

Brandenburg, a state on Germany’s border with Poland, will adopt measures to contain the disease, restricting the movement of people and livestock close to the outbreak area and ordering hunters to cull wild boar, Kloeckner said.

Bloomberg

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