African swine fever has become a major concern for the European Union’s veterinary authorities. Widespread in wild boars in central Europe, it is almost always fatal and could devastate the EU’s swine industry. As a former member of the Italian parliament (I.C.), and former EU commissioner and prime minister of Italy (M.M.), we fear that the situation could dramatically shake European identity and cohesion in this era of social media, fake news and anti-EU protests.
In the absence of a vaccine, mass culling of healthy pigs is still the only option for disease control because of potential infection (see, for example, Nature 488, 565–566; 2012). This slaughter, the disposal of carcasses and the management of animal waste would all raise political issues. And the huge costs associated with the management of an outbreak in the EU would be compounded by the need to freeze production and export.
The ensuing disruption could undermine the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy by increasing tensions between member states and between the states and the European Commission. A veterinary public-health emergency, at a time of rising populist movements and nationalism, risks fuelling mistrust in and between national governments, as well as the public, trading partners and stakeholders.
Nature 566, 326 (2019)