Italy desires to search out wild boars to avoid wasting its prosciutto trade

Imagine a world without enough prosciutto. That’s what Italy is trying to avoid by sending in the army against the growing wild boar population that threatens its lucrative and culturally significant pork industry.

Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni wants to slash the boar population by up to 80% over five years, to stop the wild animals spreading swine fever to domestic pigs. To achieve that, Meloni has signed off on deploying 177 soldiers.

The pork industry, including products like prosciutto and cured sausage, is central to Italian cuisine. It generates €8.2 billion ($8.8 billion) in annual sales and employs roughly 50,000 people, the Financial Times reported, citing official data.

But in recent years, the wild boar population has flourished at the expense of pigs, spreading swine fever and causing public nuisance by feasting on garbage. 

African swine fever has a 100% mortality rate among pigs, causing concern among local authorities that work closely with the ham and pork industries. Parma, a region in northern Italy known for its ham delicacies (and Parmesan cheese), is especially vulnerable if wild boars continue to spread the disease.

Last month, the head of Italy’s prosciutto consortium in Parma urged immediate action by increasing the number of hunters and installing traps for the wild boars. 

On Monday, Italy’s cabinet approved a military response to curb the wild boar population, along with various other measures to safeguard Italy’s agriculture, including protecting native clams.

“We are intervening firmly . . .  to counter a health problem that can become an economic and social problem,” said agriculture minister Francesco Lollobrigida, according to the FT.

Is using the military the best approach?

The wild boar population has had an extraordinary resurgence in Italy after nearing extinction in the 19th century. It’s since proved a menace among pigs—for instance, in 2022, several countries suspended Italian pork imports over the spread of African swine fever. A potential dent in exports could prove costly for Italian farmers and the wider economy if the disease isn’t controlled. 

While food industry insiders supported the new measures, environmental organizations weren’t sure sending in the army was the best way to address the issue.

“The military is not the solution,” said Stefano Raimondi, director of biodiversity at Italian non-profit Legambiente. “They want to seem strong and very decisive but the only consequence will be to create a sense of insecurity and war in the city.”

He also pointed out that wild boars were foraging through trash piles because of poor waste management at the city level. 

Italy wouldn’t be the first country to take the wild boar matter into their own hands. In 2018, when Belgium faced a wave of African swine fever cases, France erected a fence to prevent the animals from crossing its border.

While those measures controlled the problem, they didn’t do away with it entirely. Italy’s food industry probably hopes that this time things will play out differently.