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Loaded for boar: Wild pigs in crosshairs as nations scramble to contain swine fever

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: nations try to contain African swine fever through huge culls of wild boars; an interview with Jagmeet Singh; Gillette takes a page from Nike's marketing handbook with controversial ad campaign.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Wild boars at an enclosure set up by forest rangers in a northwestern district of Berlin. Thousands of wild boars call Berlin home, where they dig up gardens, cause road accidents and rampage through neighbourhoods, and there's growing fear about the spread of African swine flu. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • These are dangerous times for wild boars, as nations try to stop the spread of African swine fever.
  • The timing couldn't have been better for an in-depth interview with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
  • Gillette unleashed a controversial ad campaign this week that set the internet and the airwaves ablaze, and while some are praising it, critics and cynics can't quite get past what they see as the company's ultimate motivation.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Loaded for boar

These are dangerous times for wild boar.

Tomorrow, Polish hunters will take to the woods for the second of three weekend mass culls of the feral pigs. So far this season, almost 190,000 have been killed across the country, and 20,000 more are being targeted.

The hunts are controversial — thousands gathered outside the Polish parliament last week to protest, and an online petition calling for an end to the slaughter has garnered more than 350,000 signatures.

A hunter takes part in a collective boar hunt in the Wapowiec region of southern Poland on Jan. 13. Poland has been trying to stop the spread of African swine fever amongst the wild boar population, culling thousands of the animals since April 2018. (Darek Delmanowicz/EPA-EFE)

But the government insists they are necessary to control the burgeoning pig population and stop the spread of African swine fever (ASF).

The highly infectious disease is endemic among European wild boars, and is both fatal and unstoppable when it spreads to farm pigs.

Since it first appeared in Poland in 2014, crossing from neighbouring Belarus, the virus has spread widely. There were 3,300 confirmed wild pig cases last year, and to date it has touched 213 farm herds, leading to the destruction of 43,000 domestic swine.

Eradication efforts cost the Polish government 203 million złoty ($71 million Cdn) in 2018, but the real problem is the economic threat to Europe's pork industry.

Activists in front of Poland's parliament in Warsaw on Jan. 9 protest the cull of wild boar, which was ordered by Polish authorities to stem the spread of African swine fever (ASF) that poses a threat to the pork industry. (Janek Skarzynksi/AFP/Getty Images)

The African swine fever virus is easily spread through the body fluids of pigs, and is highly concentrated in the animals' flesh. It can survive for months in chilled, frozen, smoked and salted meat — only cooking kills it — which means that humans can communicate it too, via our cuisine and food waste.

And while the disease is not harmful to people, it is a death blow to pork exports.

That fear explains why France announced its own cull this week, after two cases of ASF were confirmed in wild pigs just across the border in Belgium.

The plan calls for the creation of a several-kilometre-deep "boar free zone" along the length of the frontier, and the building of a new fence that will stop the animals from crossing or tunnelling into the Republic.

"We are now at a maximum risk level," the French agriculture ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile in Germany, the national Farmers' Association is calling for a cull of at least 70 per cent of the country's wild boar population, saying that even one case of ASF could lead to an export ban that would crash the price of pork by 30 per cent overnight.

(It's not clear how many wild pigs there are in the country, but Berlin alone is estimated to be home to up to 8,000 of them.)

On Wednesday, Italy's populist government moved to set up courses to train citizens to help with its "wild-boar emergency," and assist forest rangers in ongoing pig hunts.

The nightmare scenario already exists in China, where an African swine fever outbreak that was first detected last August has now spread to wild boar and pigs in 24 provinces, leading to the destruction of 916,000 domestic swine. The problem is now so acute that there are shortages at market.

Workers disinfect passing vehicles on the outskirts of Beijing, China, after an outbreak of African swine flu on Nov. 23, 2018. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

The disease has yet to be detected in Hong Kong, but authorities there have been talking about how to deal with the city's growing wild pig population, discussing bringing back culls, or maybe relocating the animals to an uninhabited island — a measure deemed ineffective, since they are fantastic swimmers. A pilot program to inject the boars with contraceptives, launched in 2017, has proven to be a dismal failure.

It's clear that wild boars are now a worldwide issue.

But those who champion mass hunts as the solution might want to consider Alberta's experience.

The province used to offer a $50-a-head bounty for the wild pigs, which first started to appear in the wild in the 1980s after they were imported from Europe for farming and hunting. Over a nine-year period at least 1,135 were killed, but it's hardly made a dent in the population. In fact, indications are that hunting actually disperses the animals more widely as they seek to evade their predators.

So conservation authorities have turned to high-tech measures, using drones and remote cameras to track wild herds and trap them in baited pens so they can be euthanized.

And those who still want to raise the boars for meat must now keep them corralled behind 1.5 metre-high, 4,000 volt electric fences.

To date, there has never been a case of African swine fever in North America.

But it's probably only a matter of time.

One on one with Jagmeet Singh

They say timing is everything, and it couldn't have been better for The National co-host Rosemary Barton's in-depth interview with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, she writes.

Sometimes you get lucky in your journalistic timing. This week was one of those times.

We had been trying to book an interview with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh for a while, but given everyone's busy schedules we finally landed on this week.

The byelection has finally been called and Singh is now busily campaigning in his riding in Burnaby, B.C., with an actual date in mind, Feb. 25. So the timing for the interview was good, but it got even better: the Liberal candidate in the riding, Karen Wang, sent out a call appealing to Chinese Canadians (of which she is one) to vote for her and not the Indian candidate.

The comments were at the very least divisive and the opposite of what the Liberals want to project, and at most, racially insensitive. Whatever they were — Wang now says she was misinterpreted and is not "racist" — they were enough to get her bounced as the Liberal candidate running against Singh.

Needless to say, the NDP team was in a decent mood when we met Wednesday at the Burnaby Art Gallery, an older building in a beautiful park. The weather was ridiculously mild and Singh arrived dressed in a dark blue suit and a hot pink turban. (Which only becomes relevant because I was wearing hot pink blazer, so it looked like we had coordinated our outfits. We had not).

Rosemary Barton chats with Jagmeet Singh outside the Burnaby Art Gallery. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The last time I interviewed Singh it was remotely rather than face to face, and it was very short. This time we spoke in person and for about 50 minutes.

Which, if you are wondering, is about how long we spent with the Prime Minister for a similar one-on-one interview just before Christmas. Less than a year away from the election, we all need to start asking the party leaders "What would you do if ..."

Admittedly, that's easier if you've been a sitting MP for any time at all, and Singh has only been a politician since 2011.

Singh and I talked about his leadership, the state of the party, his sometimes seeming lack of preparation, and how he is feeling about the election.

But I also tried to get a sense of where he stands on bigger policy issues, from pipelines, to climate change, to how he would have negotiated a better USMCA trade deal.

Jagmeet Singh. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The full interview airs Sunday on The National. I'll let you decide how he fares with the questions and what you think of his chances in the byelection — and the federal election, which he says he will stick around for regardless of the outcome in February.

Oh, and I asked him all the same personal questions I asked the Prime Minister outside in the snow in Montreal back in December. Some of those questions may seem trite, but they are also telling. I figure that if you're figuring out who you want to lead this country, it might also be nice to know some things about the people themselves, like what kinds of books they read and things they do. So you'll get a sense of Singh from that, too.

Here's a hint: we do not share the same kind of taste in fiction. Ha!

Hope you'll watch the interview and let us know what you think.

- Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: Rosemary Barton's interview with Jagmeet Singh on Sunday's The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Gillette gets woke

This week, Gillette unleashed a controversial ad campaign that set the internet and the airwaves ablaze. Some are praising it, while critics and cynics can't quite get behind what they see as the company's ultimate motivation: to sell more razors than the other guy, writes producer Tarannum Kamlani.

Proctor and Gamble (P&G), the makers of the iconic Gillette razor brand, have taken the praise-outrage mix stirred up by Nike and kicked it up a notch.

The provocative new ad campaign Gillette released this week has the brand taking its own marketing to task, viewing its old ads through the lens of #MeToo and questioning its own role in the defining what it means to be a man.

And while Gillette and parent company P&G got plenty of praise, anger from some predictable sources wasn't too far behind.  

The furor is similar to that generated by the Nike ad last year starring free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked outrage by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem to protest police brutality. Many owners of Nike sneakers decided to burn them in protests of their own. But by choosing to pick a side in the debate over Kaepernick's actions, Nike has reaped the rewards.

Gillette is following suit, not only allying itself with a progressive cause but adding some self-reflection to the mix as well. Here's the ad:

The ad turns the company's iconic tagline "The Best A Man Can Get" on its head. Images of its old ads are intercut with scenes of bullying and harassment, and the narrator asks "Is this really the best a man can get?"

It also features Terry Crews — a former face of another Proctor and Gamble brand, Old Spice — testifying before congress and urging men to hold other men accountable.

The ad ends with adult men stepping in to stop bullying and harassment as young boys look on, and the narrator saying we need to show the men of tomorrow that there is a better way to be a man.

British TV personality Piers Morgan took umbrage on Twitter and on his morning show across the pond, calling it another salvo in the war on masculinity. Actor James Woods was so outraged he vowed on Twitter to never use Gillette products ever again.

Cynics have pointed out that the campaign, and a pledge to donate $1 million a year to charities that help men achieve their personal best, are really all part of a sophisticated marketing effort designed to make sure that the brand will stay relevant to the shavers of the future.

Others say that if the makers of Gillette truly wanted to make a meaningful statement, they would do away with the so-called pink tax where women pay more than men for standard items like razors, but are paid less on average in the workplace.

Our seasoned crew of Pop Panelists will be on the show to unpack it all.

Andrew Chang is back in the host's chair tonight. Joining him around the table are's senior editor Ishani Nath, Chatelaine senior writer Sarah Boesveld, and Donnovan Bennett, writer and host at Sportsnet.

Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

  • WATCH: The Pop Panel tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

A much-longer-than-planned rest stop.

Quote of the moment

"We would miss the legendary British black humour and going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale. We would miss tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road. And we would miss seeing the panto at Christmas."

- Part of an open letter from German politicians and business leaders, published in the Times of London today, urging the U.K. to reconsider Brexit.

Flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday after Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal was rejected. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • U.S. Congress to probe report that Trump directed Cohen to lie (CBC)
  • Zimbabwe orders second internet shutdown amid fuel protests (Deutsche Welle)
  • Twitter warns that private tweets were public for years (BBC)
  • Tesla slashing workforce by 7 per cent to make cheaper Model 3 (CNN)
  • Sweden finally gets new government, four months after election (Guardian)
  • Oxford University suspends research funding from China's Huawei (Associated Press)
  • Banned for his dreadlocks, Montreal comedian tells everyone to calm down (The Gazette)
  • Optimist plans to open alcohol-free bar in Dublin (Irish Times)

Today in history

When Canada's second-largest brewer teamed up with the third-place Carling O'Keefe, the promise was more corporate efficiency, not better beer. But drinkers were assured that all their favourite brands would still be available. Thirty years later, they still are — technically. Although, when was the last time you saw somebody order an Old Vienna anyplace other than the Legion?

Molson, Carling announce beer merger

33 years ago
The new company will control 53 per cent of the Canadian beer industry and become Labatt's sole rival. 2:10

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.