Pig farmers warned virus could wipe out entire Irish stock

Minister for Agriculture calls for vigilance as ‘rampant’ African swine fever spreads

Pig farmers have been warned there is “no room whatsoever” for complacency in relation to the spread of African swine fever west across Europe, a condition which could wipe out Ireland’s entire pig stock if it entered the country.

The condition is a viral disease of pigs and wild boar that is usually fatal. It can result in devastating losses for pig farmers and the pig industry. In Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia alone, the loss to the export industry has been about $961 million.

The Polish chief veterinary officer on Tuesday confirmed the country’s largest outbreak of the fever to date. It occurred on a farm in the Lublin province of Poland that had over 8,000 pigs on site.

A spokesman for Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said his department was in "constant communication" with farmers to avert the spread of the disease to Irish shores.


“It is rampant on the continent to be honest,” he said. “We are reminding people of the importance of bio security and not bringing back any waste or food material to prevent this reaching our shores. There is no room whatsoever for any complacency.

“We continue to be very vigilant. We are in constant communication with the farm organisations and the industry directly as well. It’s critical we protect the sector from an outbreak. It has led to the slaughter of millions of pigs across the world at this stage.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to downplay the risk, but neither would I want to be raising alarm. We are protected by virtue of the fact that we’re an island. We’ve got very robust bio security measures, and if we continue to be vigilant we hope we’ll be in a good position.”

There are about 1.7 million pigs and 400 commercial pig farmers in Ireland. Pig meat exports were worth €666 million in 2018, making it the third biggest agrifood sector behind beef and dairy.

Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy said the fever could wipe out Ireland's entire pig stock.

“Every precaution needs to be taken to ensure that it doesn’t come into Ireland,” he said. If it came into the country it would be very difficult to stop it from spreading. It’s of paramount importance that all eventualities are covered.

“Our pig farmers are very aware of it and are doing everything they can do to ensure it doesn’t come in because they know it could wipe out the Irish pig stock if it did. Everybody needs to exercise caution at this vulnerable time.”

The disease poses no risk for humans or other species. Pigs become infected by sniffing the carcasses of dead pigs, by eating feed products that contain the virus, or by coming in contact with clothes that people have been wearing while handling infected pigs.

There is no cure or vaccine available and the disease is spreading across the world. Within the last two years it has spread to nine previously unaffected countries in Europe and Asia, including China, which holds over half of the world’s pig population.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter