Italian pork industry blames wild boars for swine fever

African swine fever detection in northern Italy has pork producers worried about major damage to key agricultural exports

ROME – African swine fever has been detected in northern Italy, causing Italian pork producers to fear significant damage to exports of key agricultural products.

Earlier this month, a case of the virus, which is deadly to pigs but not humans, was found in a wild boar in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy.

The meat of wild boar is used to make pasta sauce and is a popular prey for Italian hunters. The country’s health and agriculture ministers have temporarily banned hunting in parts of Liguria and Piedmont to prevent the virus from spreading among more animals.

Confagricoltura, the Italian farm lobby group, said China, Japan, Taiwan and Kuwait had suspended imports of Italian pork, and neighboring Switzerland had imposed some restrictions.

Italy exports 1.5 billion euros (1.7 billion U.S. dollars) of pork and pork products annually, with about a third of that coming from sales outside the European Union.

Other regions in northern Italy are urging a crackdown on wild boars outside the affected areas to save their own pork production.

“African swine fever attacks pigs and wild boars, it is highly contagious and often fatal,” Gianluca Barbacovi, head of the farm lobby group Coldiretti in the Alto Adige region of Trentino, Italy, said Saturday.

Healthy pigs and wild boars often become infected through contact with infected animals, including free-range pigs and wild boars, EFSA said.

Lobbyists for Italy’s famed Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) production have been quick to quell any consumer concerns, saying the aging process its meat goes through makes the African swine fever virus harmless.