The inadequate reaction of Bulgaria’s authorities to a huge outbreak of swine fever puts at risk the entire pig population of the country, the EU Commissioner for health, food and safety has told the Bulgarian National Radio ‘Horizont’ programme.
Vytenis Andriukaitis spoke to the radio’s correspondent in Brussels on Wednesday (24 July), a day after the deadly virus was discovered in a second industrial farm in the village of Brashlen near the northern city of Ruse, with more than 40,000 pigs.
On Saturday, Bulgaria reported an outbreak in the village of Nikolovo, also close to Ruse. All the 14,000 pigs in the farm were culled.
Experts say 500,000 pigs in Bulgaria could be culled in efforts to contain the highly contagious disease that does not, however, affect humans.
Andriukaitis said the Commission had sent a Eurovet team in Bulgaria on 22 July and that he was waiting for their conclusions. He didn’t mince his words as to the responsibility of the Bulgarian authorities:
“I’m very disappointed to hear about this huge outbreak in one of the biggest commercial farms in Bulgaria – 40,000 pigs, it’s really a challenging situation,” he said.
Andriukaitis continued by reminding that already at the last Agrifish Council on 15 July, the recent outbreaks in Bulgaria were a major concern.
“I asked all ministers, including Bulgaria’s, to step up efforts and implement all measures very strictly. Once again, I informed all member states to remain extremely vigilant during summertime, because in summer months disease picks. Such pick of disease is a crystal example that in Bulgaria they did not a lot to avoid the situation”, the Commissioner said.
“I drew attention on vigilance, on possibilities to introduce strict biosecurity measures, on possibilities for a strong information awareness campaign, and of course, disseminate in those territories affected, in this border region with Romania, and teach people to strictly follow hygiene rules.”
“Biosecurity is not only about farms, it should be implemented in the whole territory. I’m sad to hear this news and I’m waiting for the result of the official investigation. This happened because someone was negligent, someone did not do their job properly and someone did not pay attention.”
Asked if his criticism was aimed at the Bulgarian minister for agriculture, he said:
“It’s not about the minister, it’s about the people on the ground. It’s about farmers, it’s about local communities, it’s about people who have pigs in their small backyards, and it’s about commercial farms, it’s about all operators. And of course, the responsibility of the government is clear: the government should do very actively do their job and control the situation on the ground.”
Since 15 May, Bulgaria has had a new minister of agriculture, Dessilava Taneva, after Rumen Porozhanov resigned following a series of scandals involving the misuse of EU funds.
Andriukaitis insisted that the Bulgarian government should have informed people about the virus, and made sure that they follow the rules.
“The government, the local authorities have to visit every house”. He repeated the message in Bulgarian: “Всяка къща.” (‘Every house’).
“It’s very important: Всяка къща. And explain the measures to be implemented. And explain the consequences. There is little time left and if this is not done, Bulgaria is in great danger of losing its entire pig industry. It’s a very dangerous situation.”
He explained that after the Commission’s team has made its report, the EU executive would see how they can review their African fever strategy relative to Bulgaria, and ask the Bulgarian government to take into account measures such as biosecurity strategies, control of movement, information campaigns, making sure local communities do their job.
“Otherwise the consequences will be very tough,” he said.
Asked about possible sanctions against the Bulgarian authorities for negligence, he said:
“Sanctions are not my responsibility. First of all, it’s up to the Bulgarian government to understand. It’s about implementation, enforcement, vigilance and organising multi-sectorial teams capable to manage the situation on the ground.
Asked how other countries have dealt with a similar challenge, he gave the example in particular of the Czech Republic, where in his words after two years of efforts the country was free of swine fever.
He also mentioned the fact that in Bulgaria many people have pigs in their backyards and trade them and their meat without much control
“We should understand the cultural differences. People trade piglets – I ask again to go in every house,” he repeated, insisting that otherwise there would be no chance to eradicate the disease in two years.
“You need to understand that for 2-3 years the situation will be challenging. Now the main task is to contain the disease in this regionalised area,” he said.
The Commissioner said the EU was compensating 75% of the actions regarding disinfectants, burying the animals and cleaning. Asked about the bigger economic losses, he said this was a question for the Commissioner responsible for agricultural policy, Phil Hogan.
Romania too is hit by African swine fever and the contamination in Bulgaria happened across the land border, possibly by boar. MEPs Ivo Hristov (S&D Bulgaria) and Carmen Avram (S&D Romania), both members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, asked the Commission to provide an additional €70 million to combat swine fever, from the EU budget for 2020.
Andriukaitis raps Bulgaria for failing to act against swine fever @EURACTIV https://t.co/SQAFguGEAT Journalist Genka Shikerova from Nova TV had an investigation warning of the risks 1 year ago, but she was fired and report was not aired @V_Andriukaitis #PressFreedom
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) July 26, 2019
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]