Fearful of swine fever, France plans fence on Belgian border

FILE PHOTO: Pigs are seen standing in a pen at a farm near Brussels, Belgium September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - France will start putting up fencing along part of its border with Belgium this weekend to prevent wild boars spreading African swine fever, a virulent livestock disease that could disrupt Europe's large pig industry. France has been on alert for African swine fever since Belgium detected the virus last month among wild boars a few kilometers from the French border. Belgium decided to slaughter several thousand pigs in its contaminated zone to prevent the virus reaching farm herds, but it is already facing embargos on its pork exports from countries like South Korea and China, which is also grappling with an outbreak of the disease. French authorities have banned hunting and other activities in a border zone and the prefecture in the Meurthe-et-Moselle region will start installing fencing on Saturday, a prefecture official and a hunting association said on Friday. The fencing would cover part of the border and be supported by repellent products on roads and other locations that could not be fenced off, Patrick Massenet, head of the hunting federation of Meurthe-et-Moselle, said. It was expected to take about a week to install the fencing, he added. Meurthe-et-Moselle is one of several regions covered by the surveillance zone established by the French authorities near the border. France's agriculture ministry, however, said the details of the fencing were yet to finalised. The ministry was awaiting the conclusions of a feasibility study due in the coming days and also wanted to coordinate its action with Belgian and European Union officials, Loic Evain, deputy head of food at the ministry, said. Western European countries have been trying to avert the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious among pigs but harmless to humans, after a growing number of cases in Eastern Europe. In Belgium, dozens of wild boars have now been killed by the disease in the past month in the zone near France. Experts say the virus, for which there is no vaccine or treatment, can also be spread through food products and by movement of people. China, the world's largest pigmeat producer, confirmed a new outbreak of African swine fever on Friday. (Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg, writing by Gus Trompiz, editing by Susan Fenton)