BERLIN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The German cabinet issued a decree on Wednesday to allow hunters to shoot wild boar year-round to stop the animals, which can carry African swine fever, from passing the infection on to farm pigs.
While no case has yet been detected in Germany’s wild boar population, the spread of the disease in eastern Europe is causing immense concern in Germany, whose pork industry has seen huge growth in exports to countries including China.
A government spokesman said the decision was taken to bring about a “significant reduction” in the wild boar population and contain the risk of farm pigs being infected.
The virus, which causes African swine fever, is harmless to humans and other animals. But for wild boar and farm pigs, the disease is deadly in almost all cases within 10 days.
Germany, a major European Union pig producer, has watched with growing concern as the highly contagious disease has spread westward across Europe. A reported case could trigger mass culls.
Animal protection group PETA criticised the cabinet’s decision, saying the government was subordinating animal welfare to economic interests.
“The de facto cancelling of the off-season will cause great animal suffering, because the young are dependent on their mother during the rearing phase,” PETA said in a statement. “Countless piglets will starve to death.”
Infected wild boars have been found in the Czech Republic and Poland, while backyard pigs with the disease were found in Romania in January.
German farmers have called for 70 percent of the country’s relatively large wild boar population to be culled.
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt has rejected a plea from the farming association to refrain from imposing an export ban if African swine fever was identified in wild boars, saying Germany was not in a position to bypass EU rules. (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; editing by David Evans)