Russian officials have accused Georgia of bringing African swine fever (ASF) into Russia as a form of economic sabotage.
Since 2007, ASF has been registered in 24 Russian regions, resulting in the destruction of more than 440,000 head of pigs. Direct losses from the spread of the virus in 2011 were calculated at RUB8bn (US$265m) and, from 2007 to 2012, about RUB30bn (US$1bn).
Russian authorities are convinced the disease did not arrive in Russia by accident, but was brought in by foreign intelligence services.
“ASF came to us from Georgia – first to the Republic of Ossetia (Northern) and then to the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions. There are signs that this has been artificially injected. It is economic sabotage. The Krasnodar region has already been battling this problem for three years. In future, we must do everything to resist the further spread of the virus,” said the head of Russian Federal Service on Surveillance for Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being (Rospotrebnadzor) Gennady Onishchenko last week.
Onishchenko also indirectly accused the US of complicity with Georgia on the issue.
“In particular, epidemiologists from the US were working in the former anti-plague stations in Georgia, which were watching for particularly dangerous infections, and were headed by the former head of secret service of Georgia,” he said.
In his opinion, the disease could have entered into the territory of Russia from one of these stations.These words brought sharp criticism from Georgia, whose representatives categorically denied all the charges against them. “ASF could not come to Russia from Georgia, because we don’t have it at all,” said Koba Dzamashvili, head of the Veterinary Department of the National Food Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia.
“It is almost impossible. First of all, between [the two] countries, there are mountains that physically prevent the spread of the disease and, most importantly, ASF does not exist in Georgia at present. So it is not possible that ASF spread to Russia from Georgia.”
Meanwhile, Russian farmers are developing innovative new methods to combat ASF. In Kuban, the region most affected by the virus, the government plans to implant microchips into the ears of each pig in the next few years. This will allow it to track of any changes in the health status of each animal and, when necessary, respond to it without delay.
The cost of such innovation for the average company will be RUB150m (US$5m). However, according to experts, only 10% of existing farms will be able to afford such an investment and others will be forced to leave the market.
Another tool used to fight against ASF is an electronic fence, which protects animals by sending short electric pulses. These pulses are of a high voltage – from 1,000 up to 5,000 volts – but last for less than 0.0003 seconds. This is designed to prevent ASF from entering farms from wildlife, where the disease is now spreading uncontrollably. However, according to official projections, even under the best scenario, Russia would not be able to eradicate ASF earlier than 2018.