MEPS demand more action to stop spread of ASF

By Méabh McMahon, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Asf, European union

The disease has brought considerablee economic damage to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland
The disease has brought considerablee economic damage to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland
The European Commission’s response to Europe’s African swine fever (ASF) crisis was criticised at the European Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 7 October) for being too weak.

The disease has brought about considerable economic damage to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, members of the parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee warned in Brussels.

"The Commission is not really on top of this danger,"​ the committee’s vice-chair and Polish conservative MEP Janusz Wojchiechozski suggested, branding Brussels’ actions thus far as "inadequate".​ Since January, some 39 outbreaks of ASF have been recorded in Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Estonia, noted French socialist MEP Eric Andrieu.

With that in mind, and since Russia banned all EU pork imports in January as a result, the Commission has ordered that lorries returning from Russia are disinfected before coming into the EU – because of concerns that ASF is present there.

Also, it has funded an information campaign on affected borders; put a programme in place to check the luggage of passengers arriving from Russia and Belarus; sent EU inspectors to affected zones; and complained about Russia’s ban to the World Trade Organisation. "I cannot accept that the Commission is not coordinating enough,"​ Bernard Van Goethem, director at the Commission’s directorate general for health and consumers told MEPs.

But his answer was in vain. "With such modest measures, and a lack of support for farmers and countries impacted, it (ASF) will only spread further"​, insisted Wojchiechozski, who added that Polish farmers in affected areas had only received €1 million between them. "That is a drop in the ocean,"​ he said, when prices are falling rapidly as a result.

Latvian MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party Sandra Kalniete agreed. "The Commission must act now in the fight against swine flu,"​ she said, calling for more resources for compensation, sanitary measures, killing and destroying pigs and disinfection. She added that the Baltic States had become a "buffer zone"​ for ASF, but if not stopped soon, it would "cause a major economic disruption in other countries".

Dutch liberal MEP Jan Huitema wondered how long it would take to develop a vaccine against ASF. "What will the Commission do to speed up this process?"​ he asked.

Van Goethem blamed Russia. ASF spread slowly from Russia into Ukraine in 2012, and Belarus in 2013, he said, adding that weak veterinary services in Russia could not halt the disease, which was facilitated by Russian army movements and weak controls on swill feeding and hunting.

Belarus’ heavy-handed attempts to stamp out the disease have also failed. "The way wildlife is managed is crucial to stop the spread of the disease,"​ advised Van Goethem. "You need to manage the population of wild boar in a sophisticated way."​ He noted that Belarusian authorities have tried to shoot wild boar en masse, encouraging them to escape to the EU. "Wild boar are not stupid," he concluded, "when you shoot them, they go away and they infect others."

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