June 6, 2018 / 10:53 AM / 6 months ago

Hungarian pig farmers brace for hard times after swine fever outbreak

ZEBEGENY, Hungary (Reuters) - Robert Laczko, who rears Hungary’s traditional breed of hairy “mangalica” pigs, prized for their meat, is bracing for tough times.

A Mangalica pig is seen in the mud on a pig farm in Zebegeny, Hungary, June 1, 2018. Picture taken June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

In April, Hungary detected its first cases of African swine fever (ASF) among wild boar in a north eastern region. The highly contagious, devastating viral disease of pigs has been spreading across Eastern Europe in recent years.

Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania are among the countries affected by ASF, alarming governments and pig farmers due to the pace and distance of its reach.

Although no domestic pigs have been infected by ASF in Hungary, some of the biggest foreign markets for Hungarian pork products, including Japan and South Korea, reacted to the outbreak by imposing temporary import bans or restrictions.

Laczko, whose farm in Zebegeny sits near the banks of the Danube, said that since the outbreak the authorities had imposed “many restrictions.”

His mangalica pigs are bred outdoors, and he has had to build an extra double electric fence to prevent contact with wild boar.

In the last two months, Hungary has detected 17 cases of African swine fever in dead wild boar in the north east, according to data from the food safety authority NEBIH.

“We can say that the Hungarian domestic pig ... production is safe till now,” said the country’s chief vet Lajos Bognar.

But Bognar said that 10 countries, most of them from Asia, had imposed restrictions on Hungarian pork imports for the time being.

He said his rough estimate of the cost of the ASF outbreak to the industry so far was around 11 billion forints ($40.3 million) so far.

Gyula Nagy, a pig farmer in Rabacsecseny, west of Budapest, who has 2,500 pigs, said the outbreak was hurting his livelihood.

“The price of our slaughter pigs has ... dropped by 10 percent, plus our export possibilities have also decreased,” he said.

Nagy said an export deal with Serbia he had been working on fell through because of the ASF outbreak. Serbia was one of the countries to have imposed temporary import bans.

Other measures, including hunting bans, were also being put into place, but mangalica breeder Laczko says these may not be enough to halt the advance of the deadly virus.

“The main problem that it comes from the Ukraine and until that tap is turned off, the virus will keep spreading and all measures will be just minimal fire extinguishing,” he said.

Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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