African Swine Fever (ASF), slowly entering Hungarian wild boar populations

Hungary witnessed its first ASF infection cases in wild boars on April 21st 2018, in Heves county. The most likely source of infection is food waste, possibly introduced by foreign citizens, many of whom work in industrial facilities located in the area, however, traffic on the M3 motorway nearby could also have played a role. At the moment, no outbreaks in the domestic pig production have been found, but the disease is currently  found in several counties: Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, Hajdú-Bihar, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok, Heves, Nógrád, Pest and Békés.

wild boar
Beeld: ©A.Galica

ASF has been advancing towards Hungary with the natural migration of wild boars from the East since the first cases erupted in Georgia in 2007. Up until 2016 the closest cases to Hungary were near Chernivtzi, Ukraine, some 260 km from the border.

In August 2017, infected wild boar populations were discovered near the Hungarian border in Romania and Ukraine. Due to the significance of wild boar in Hungarian wildlife management, serious measures were employed in order to prevent the spreading of ASF to Hungary after the virus appeared in the Ukraine.

The first Hungarian case was discovered when a sample taken from a wild boar carcass from Heves County on April 21st, 2018, tested positive, after which, the first CVO Decision on the matter was issued (No. 1/2018) which introduced an infected area classification and designation (level of restriction), applicable for all stakeholders of the food supply chain.

Measures taken regarding wild boar management

Active surveillance of ASF in wild boar populations has been in place already since 2014. Wild boar carcasses have been subject to ASF sampling for hunters. Mandatory mortality reporting (compensation), domestic pig swine fever assessment, increased control of food waste management (contaminated sites and transit routes) from infected countries are in place.

On March 1st 2017, the feeding of wild boars for population sustaining purposes was banned, with the exception for hunting. In high-risk zones, compulsory measures stimulated by granting compensation include disposing of carcasses and increasing the number of planned hunts (sows 30%; piglets 25%). The following is also mandated in high risk zones: Direct mortality searches (compensation), group hunting in free areas with permission only, and the utilization of bagged wild boar only after a negative virological examination (this applies to trophies as well).

Other measures include compulsory collection and destruction of viscera, restricting feeding to hunting purposes, the compulsory protection of closed game reserves with a double fence, and the liquidation of the reserve if it fails to implement this measure.

Furthermore, a ban on the transport of wild boar outside the zones and enhanced veterinary inspections of domestic pigs have also been implemented.

Source: The status of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Hungary, Conference Paper, September 2018 Conference: 12th International Symposium on Wild Boar and Other Suids, At Lázně Bělohrad; Czech Republic

Policy measures have recently been updated in order to prevent further spreading of ASF amongst wild boar populations. The CVO Decision 2/2020, amending the nationwide regulation, introduces the following most important measures:

  • In infected areas, every secondary positive case invokes the automatic designation of a given game management unit as Strictly Limited Area (LMA)
  • Permission for individual diagnostic killing of boars can be granted inside LMAs, however, an obligatory minimum quota is not defined and wild boar trophy making is allowed in this case. Hunting with dogs for other game species can only be permitted for small game.
  • The number of diagnostic killings (for population decreasing purposes) in areas outside LMAs are defined as 150% of the quota of the concluded 2019/2020 hunting year. Hence the yearly game management for an area plan can be completed.
  • In the case if the diagnostic (killing) plan cannot be achieved, the animal health authority can call for external assistance
  • In high and medium risk areas, carcasses originating from diagnostic killings can be used
  • The population in ‘game farms’ lying on infected areas (including LMAs) is subject to extermination within the next 6 months
  • In high risk and infected areas, permissions for establishing new game farms can only be granted for species other than wild boar

Also some changes in refund procedures were implemented:

  • Refund for carcasses search: the state refunds 30000 HUF per carcass (approximately 89 EUR at current exchange rates). This replaces an hourly rate system.
  • Accurate and standardized state refund for the transportation and disposal of carcasses (also for carcasses killed for diagnostic purposes)
  • Regulation for state refund in case of the extermination of game farms
  • Differentiated refund for the operation of collection sites
  • Simplification and standardisation of refunds for wild boar carcasses

Domestic pig population

As for now (March 17th, 2020) the domestic pig population is free of ASF, only wild boar populations carry the infection, therefore, from a technical angle hunters are of paramount importance in infection control.

The domestic pig population is widespread over the country, as of December 2019, the total number of pigs in Hungary is 2.634 mln (of which 155,300 being breeding sows), which means an 8.3% decrease compared to the previous year. 2.148 mln pigs are kept at agricultural enterprises (of which 128,900 are breeding sows), 485,900 pigs are kept at private holdings (of which 26,500  are breeding sows). (Source: Hungarian Cental Statistical Office)

Members of the Hungarian Pig Breeder Association (MSTSZ) own almost 90% of domestic pigs, divided over approximately 1700-2000 holders (from the size of 1 sow/per hold upwards). The exact number of smallholders is not exactly known, a broad estimation nevertheless projects a total of 4000-5000 pig farmers nationwide.

Smallholdings are an essential part of rural communities and culture. Cuisine has a major role in these communities, pig slaughtering at smallholdings is an important gathering for families, relatives, friends and some cases even for business partners in wintertime.

In Hungary, smallholdings and in general the rural areas are also an important political voter base, which makes the implementation of draconian animal health measures challenging. This makes the strengthening of the role and importance of the hunter community in combatting ASF more acceptable. In the public eye this can come handy for the political elite since hunting is a major hobby and pastime activity - And policy platform for all levels of power.

Sources: CVO decisions, several press articles, National Bureau of Food Supply Chain Security, KSH and conference paper regarding the status of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Hungary