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Western Europe on Alert for Swine Fever

On Monday, Denmark began erecting a 42-mile fence along its border with Germany in an attempt to protect its pig farms from African swine fever (ASF). Though the disease has not been spotted in Denmark or Germany to date, Danish lawmakers and Denmark’s national environmental agency approved the project last summer following an outbreak in Belgium.

In a similar insurance policy against the disease, France is culling all wild boar along a Belgian border restriction zone where the fever was detected last year, as well as raising a border fence. A French ministry statement explained, “The confirmation of two cases of African swine fever on Jan. 9, 2019, in Belgium at about 1 km from the border, leaves our country more exposed than ever to this major risk for pig farming.”

A disease lethal for pigs but harmless for humans, African swine fever has upset the pork industry in China and eastern Europe in past years. Poland, one of Europe’s eastern countries to have struggled against ASF recently, is also culling wild boar across the country. An outbreak in Belgium last year demonstrated the rapid westward spread of ASF.

Wild boars carrying African swine fever pose a threat to Europe’s pork industry. Photo:  Pig World

Wild boars carrying African swine fever pose a threat to Europe’s pork industry. Photo: Pig World

In building a border fence, Denmark is protecting its $4.5 billion pork industry from a virus for which there is no treatment or vaccination. The $12 million, five-foot tall, steel-mat fence will allow for deer to jump over it, and construction is expected to end later this year. As Europe’s main pork exporter, Denmark boasts 5,000 pig farms and raises 28 million pigs each year. With swine outnumbering people by a ratio of two to one, the government calls the project “common sense.”

Hans Kristensen, a Danish hunter and forest engineer, stands alongside a flag marking the path of Denmark’s planned border fence. Photo:  Sidsel Overgaard/NPR

Hans Kristensen, a Danish hunter and forest engineer, stands alongside a flag marking the path of Denmark’s planned border fence. Photo: Sidsel Overgaard/NPR

Still, the fence is receiving criticism from many environmental organizations who claim the fence will be ineffective in protecting the pork industry. Opposing groups cite the boars’ 35 kilometer-per-hour running speed and swimming strength as proof that the animals will readily be able to find holes or unfenced sections, and that the wall will do little to hinder their entrance into Denmark. Criticism also comes from German lawmakers, who argue that the ASF virus mainly spreads from the transportation of contaminated food and animals, not from the migration of the wild boars themselves.

Construction of the fence has already begun, however, and the fence’s efficacy will be tested in 2020. Until then, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and France remain on alert for future outbreaks.