The “swine crisis” jeopardizes the Bulgarian economy as well as eating habits

Photo: babh.government.bg

An African swine fever epidemic is currently raging in Bulgaria, a disease for which there is no cure and which is highly contagious for domestic and industrially bred pigs, as well as for wild boar. And there is only one remedy – to cull the sick animals and put in place the strictest of measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

According to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov the disease was brought in from the north – Romania – by tourists and wild boar, for which the slapdash fence along Bulgaria’s land border with Romania has proved to be no obstacle. That is why the first and biggest outbreak of the epidemic was in Northern Bulgaria where over 100,000 animals had to be put down in industrial farms, as well as hundreds of back-yard animals belonging to small farmers and villagers who keep one or two pigs for their own personal needs. Many opposed the killing of their animals bitterly, and are even blocking off roads though that has not prevented the culling.

Data show that there are more than 800,000 pigs in the country which means that more than 12 percent of them have already been put down because of the African swine fever epidemic. Their number of constantly growing because the infection is spreading at lighting speed, crossing over the Balkan range and reaching Southern Bulgaria, and no one can say when and where there will be new outbreaks. According to even the most optimistic of estimates, no less than 50,000 pigs will be culled. The damages inflicted by culling on such a massive scale are immense, some say the losses will run to hundreds of millions of euro and 25,000 jobs next year.

The government measures to curb the “swine crisis” have been the target of a great deal of criticism coming from the EU, as well as from the political opposition in the country. In some places a state of emergency was called, no-go zones put in place, and the army and the military police were called in to ensure security at the industrial pig farms. Help was also sought from the EU which promised 14 million euro in compensation for the losses incurred by the industrial pig farms, and the eventuality of asking for additional aid is not being ruled out. Minister of Agriculture Deislava Taneva stated that the aim is to contain the infection by the end of autumn.

At the end of September Bulgaria is to undergo a European Commission audit of the measures the country is applying to tackle the swine fever epidemic, on which the financial support for the measures taken depends.Bulgaria will insist on changes that will allow small farmers to receive compensation, alongside big pig farms, even though their animals have not been registered. The only thing they have so far been promised is 150 euro in aid to disinfect the pigsties irrespective of the number of animals they own.

Pork is central to the Bulgarian diet, and now people do not know what to do – buy and eat pork which, as veterinary doctors and medical authorities say is safe for human consumption even if contaminated with African swine fever if it is heat-treated. But many no longer put pork on the table and butchers have registered a drastic slump in sales. On the other hand the destruction of so many of the pigs in Bulgaria – expectations are that their numbers will reach 20 percent – will in all likelihood trigger a shortage on the market and pork will have to be imported. Apprehensions are that imported pork will be much more expensive than Bulgarian pork, and that the prices of this most popular and affordable kind of meat will rocket by no less than 50 percent. A “swine Chernobyl” is what the African swine fever disaster has been called by the media. Though it may sound over-dramatic, the truth is that the situation is tragic for farmers, for the meat and meat processing industry, for consumers and for an entire sector of Bulgaria’s agriculture.



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