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Farmers kill thousands of pigs in disease-hit Latvia

By Vladislav Vorotnikov , 20-Feb-2017

A pig farm in Rukas experienced the worst ASF outbreak in Latvian history
A pig farm in Rukas experienced the worst ASF outbreak in Latvian history

Latvia has culled more pigs in the past two weeks than in the last three years, due to African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks. 

The direct losses have reached millions of euros, but much bigger problems could ensue, as the European Commission is now considering restrictions on transportation of live pigs from Latvia.

Nearly 15,000 head of pigs were culled as the result of the two recent ASF outbreaks in the country, according to Latvia’s Food and Veterinary Service (SFVS).

On 17 January, SFVS released a report, saying that, in 2014-2016, Latvia spent €13.3 million on combating the disease and, during this period, a total of 14,000 pigs were culled.

Largest outbreak in Latvian history

However, on 23 January, SFVS reported an outbreak of ASF at the Rukas farm of local pig manufacturer Ancers, where veterinary inspectors decided to cull the whole pig population of 5,023 head. This outbreak has been identified as the largest one ever in Latvia.

On 7 February, ASF was also detected at the Bunchi farm, which also belongs to Ancers. Here the total pig population was over 10,000 head and SFVS had to destroy the herd completely. Following these outbreaks, the Latvian government has introduced a state of emergency in several districts of the country for the first time since mid-2014.

A ‘desert’ instead of pig houses

Raimond Kalvans, CEO of Ancers, said the outbreaks had been a disaster for the company and, in addition to direct financial losses, the manufacturer had lost breeding stock.

According to Kalvans these pigs were a special local breed named Latvian White, which Ancers was supplying to other producers’ farms, so the country’s pig industry may face a shortage of genetic material as a result.

Kalvans added that the company has been working hard on biosecurity at the pig farms, but claimed there were some “external circumstances”, which could have provoked the outbreak. He noted that the company would suffer a severe emotional and financial hit as a result and predicted there would be “a desert” in the places where the outbreaks occurred.

Ancers has pumped millions of euros into its farms, including a new one designed for 8,000 head of pigs, which is currently under construction. The recent losses will amount to several million euros and the company currently has several loans amounting to €1.5m in banks and has already started negotiations about payment delays, Kalvans said.
New restrictions to be put in place

Meanwhile, Maris Balodis, head of SFVS, speaking several days after the second outbreak, admitted that the European Commission could implement restrictions against Latvian pigs and pork. At the moment, the challenge is to explain to the European Commission how the disease penetrated two large farms, he added.

Balodis, however, predicted that there would not be any radical changes to conditions in the domestic market as a result of the outbreaks. He said that, last year, Latvia was quite successful in combating ASF, but the disease kept spreading rapidly among the wild boar population. Also, large farms with good biosecurity protection had previously managed to “cohabit” with ASF, he added.
Earlier this year, national veterinary services said Latvia was in the midst of an "emergency situation" as the country grappled with crippling ASF outbreaks .  
The country has fought a long-running battle with ASF and has repeatedly called for help from richer EU 27 allies.  

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