Distance in today’s world erects no barriers to the spread of contagion, which is why Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association have issued warnings about the westward path of African swine fever, an infection that threatens no harm to humans but which kills pigs and wild boar.
In China, which has close to half of the planet’s stocks, 1.2m pigs have been culled. The disease, for which there is no vaccination, has spread to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia and North Korea. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Office fears that Burma, the Philippines and Laos could be next in line.
While not wishing to raise undue alarm — since the oceans around us will offer a degree of protection — Mr Creed is right to warn that there is no room in Ireland for complacency, since outbreaks of what is known as “pig ebola” have reached Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The consequence so far has been an increase in global pork prices of almost 40% as supplies fall. There are grounds for hope that outbreaks closer to our island home can be controlled, if the precautionary measures being taken by the Irish and European authorities are applied robustly.
African swine fever in Belgium in 1985 led to the culling of 30,000 pigs, and was contained. Our 400 commercial pig farmers, producing exports worth more than €660m in 2018, should take some solace from that.