Plague out of control

Prevention and control of the African Swine Fever (ASF) spread in the wild boar and swine populations

The Veterinary Inspectorate failed to properly supervise compliance with biosecurity principles in pig farms, whereas district vets did not carry out obligatory inspections in those farms at least once a year. The Inspectorate’s spending on biosecurity made up less than 5% of funds earmarked for the ASF control. Administrative decisions to prevent the ASF spread were not taken or their execution was not verified. Samples for testing were transported to very remote laboratories.

The African swine fever (ASF) is a fast-spreading infectious disease dangerous for domestic pigs and wild boars, transmitted by viruses, exceptionally resistant to low temperatures. Viruses remain infectious in animal organisms and in raw, undercooked products made of  pork or wild boar.

The disease does not pose any risk to human health or life. There is no effective vaccine against the ASF so its appearance in domestic pigs living on a farm means that the drove of pigs needs to be killed and then destroyed. Also all substances the animals had contact with need to be destroyed. The entity responsible for taking these measures is the Veterinary Inspectorate. Pig farming can be reactivated only after a long period of time.

Wild boar, just like swine, gets infected mainly by contacting living representatives of their species, also by infected food left in the places where wild boars stay. The spread of ASF among wild boars may also result from the activity of hunters who do not abide by the biosecurity principles. One of the key factors causing the ASF spread – next to human interference – is considered to be the wild boar migration.  In this respect more frequent wild boar deaths need to be highlighted and this fact should be reported to district vets. In such cases samples are collected for laboratory testing.

The ASF came to Central Europe from the south-east direction. The first case of an infected wild boar in Poland was confirmed in February 2014. The first ASF outbreak in Poland was identified in July 2014. Now the disease occurs in all countries neighbouring Poland.

Radical depopulation of wild boar is a commonly accepted and applied remedy against the ASF spread. Next to increased biosecurity, intensive shooting of the species is to reduce the probability of the ASF spread on pig farms. In March 2017, a new ASF control programme was implemented Poland-wide. It assumed high rewards for wild boar shooting, depending on the virus threat area.

The mass reduction method of wild boar population by coordinated shooting being one of basic tools to fight ASF was questioned by some scientists. According to the authors of an open letter concerning this issue, the most significant factor responsible for the ASF spread are humans, not wild boars, and the real reason why the ASF develops in Poland is insufficient sanitary control in pig farming.

After the 2017 audit on implementing the biosecurity programme as an ASF control element, NIK recommended that biosecurity requirements should be rigorously enforced from all pig farm owners and that supervision over district vets should be reinforced.

Since 2014, when first ASF cases in domestic pigs and wild boars were identified in Poland, the epizootic has overcome subsequent territorial barriers and has consistently spread all over Poland. At the end of June 2022, the majority of Poland was covered with the ASF-related sanitary restriction zones.

In the audited period (2019–2021), the prevention and control of the ASF spread in the population of wild boars and domestic pigs was not always in line with the applicable law and adopted procedures.

The Veterinary Inspection spent in that period about PLN 595.5 million to control the ASF in domestic pigs and wild boars. Most funds in that period (over 47%) were spent to cover the total costs of hunting and sanitary shooting of wild boars. In the same period, about PLN 28.4 million was spent on the control of biosecurity and costs of clinical testing, which made up less than 5% of all expenditures for the ASF control in Poland.

The audit revealed lengthy procedures of transferring funds to prevent and eliminate the ASF consequences, which contrasted with the need to take up immediate measures on areas affected by the epizootic. As a result, district veterinary doctors contracted liabilities, despite not having enough funds in financial plans at their disposal. The cost of identified irregularities exceeded PLN 4.5 million.  

Most of the audited bodies of the Veterinary Inspectorate exercised insufficient supervision over compliance with the biosecurity principles in pig farms. So they lacked essential knowledge about potential effectiveness of measures taken.

NIK auditors identified numerous irregularities on part of district vets, which could potentially have severe consequences. As a result, in half of district veterinary inspectorates annual inspections in all farms located in ASF area were not carried out, despite the obligation to do so. Also, follow-up inspections were not made in 70% of inspectorates and in 30% of them inspections were delayed, in some cases even by half a year.

Nearly one third of the audited inspectorates failed to issue orders to remove shortcomings or to kill/cull pigs, even if it was required by the Animal Health Protection Act. Accepting continued operation of farms that did not abide by the biosecurity principles posed a higher risk of the ASF spread

Frequently, despite the pig farming ban, its execution by pig owners was not monitored. According to NIK that implied non-diligence.

Supervision exercised by provincial veterinary doctors over district vets was not always adequate. That was partly due to reporting in the Veterinary Inspectorate which did not provide the data enabling reliable assessment to what extent district vets performed tasks set by the Chief Veterinary Doctor.

The majority of district vets (80%) properly eliminated the ASF effects. Essential measures were taken immediately to limit the epizootic spread.  In two districts the number of killed wild boars was not properly verified. Also, in many cases other entities were not informed about the ASF outbreaks or were informed with delays. According to NIK, though, the said irregularities did not have any serious consequences.

The transport of blood samples of shot and dead wild boars to distant laboratories was not properly organised. Regionalisation in transferring the samples was optimal only in one province. In three other audited provinces the samples were still transported to distant laboratories.

In most cases governors properly handled the ASF control and wild board sanitary shooting in local law acts, despite sporadic errors and inaccuracies in those acts. In particular, governors defined the ASF-infected areas and established bans and orders on those areas to limit the disease spread.

Those tasks were not always performed properly. In some cases public road managers exceeded the deadline to make fences or they proceeded too long with closing animal crossings along roads which were natural barriers for wild boar migration. That could have resulted in the virus spread.

Governors made sure relevant structures were established and required procedures to control the epizootic were implemented. Nevertheless, ad hoc task groups that were supposed to be a new instrument to control the ASF proved completely useless. They were composed of uniformed services officers with hunting rights. They failed to shoot a single wild boar, though.

Next to proper protection of pigs against the ASF transmission from the natural environment, the wild boar depopulation is considered to be one of the epizootic control pillars. However, it was questioned by some scientists as contradictory to state-of-the-art methods of controlling diseases in wild animal populations and modern requirements of environmental protection.

In each subsequent hunting economic year the percentage of wild boars shot for sanitary reasons was growing:

Volume of sanitary shooting and hunting acquisition in three past hunting economic years
Graphic description

Volume of sanitary shooting and hunting acquisition in three past hunting economic years

2019/2020: 405 340 of which sanitary shooting made up over 15% and hunting acquisition nearly 85%

2020/2021: 367 809 of which sanitary shooting made up about 34% and hunting acquisition about 66%

2021/2022: 287 496 of which sanitary shooting made up a bit more than 50% and hunting acquisition a bit less than 50%

Source: NIK’s analysis

However, only 2.6% of the shot wild boars were wild boars with confirmed ASF:

Number of wild boars with confirmed ASF against the number of wild boars acquired through hunting and shot for sanitary reasons in 2019-2021
Graphic description

Number of wild boars with confirmed ASF against the number of wild boars acquired through hunting and shot for sanitary reasons in 2019-2021

2.6% - hunted wild boars, ASF carriers, shot for sanitary reasons

97.4% - hunted wild boars, non-ASF carriers, shot for sanitary reasons

Source: NIK’s analysis

Members of the Polish Hunting Association pointed to legal, procedural, organisational, technical and even environmental obstacles related to sanitary shooting and hunting acquisition of wild boar due to the ASF epizootic. Relevant ministries communicated that no changes to the law or the environmental condition , are planned in the area signalled by hunters.

Recommendations

To the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

  • to take measures to further specify provisions of the Animal Health Protection Act – by clearly indicating what entity/ entities district veterinary doctors and governors may giver orders to concerning the search of dead animals.

To the Chief Veterinary Doctor

  • to develop effective mechanisms of supervision over the biosecurity control in pig farms by district veterinary doctors, particularly by improving the reporting in this area;
  • to modify templates of the ASF control readiness plans prepared in the Chief Veterinary Inspectorate to make sure they meet justified expectations and needs of the Veterinary Inspectorate bodies at the district and province level.

Article informations

Date of creation:
20 December 2022 13:53
Date of publication:
20 December 2022 13:53
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
20 December 2022 13:54
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A wild boar in the ASF zone in a forest © Adobe Stock

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