By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's veterinary authorities said on Friday they would cull 8,253 pigs after detecting an outbreak of African swine fever at a breeding farm in the northeast of the country, the sixth industrial farm in the Balkan nation to be hit by the virus.
The outbreak was detected at a farm in the village of Vetren, near the Danube town of Silistra. More than 120,000 pigs have been killed on another five farms in the past two weeks.
Experts say Bulgaria could lose its entire pig breeding industry and have its 600,000 pigs culled due to the highly contagious disease, which affects pigs but not humans.
The Black Sea state has so far detected 30 outbreaks of African swine fever at industrial or backyard farms in the country.
On Monday, 20km (12.4 miles) sanitary zones around all registered industrial pig farms were set up, with authorities ordering the culling of home-raised pigs in these zones.
Protest rallies were held in several parts of southern Bulgaria on Friday, with hundreds resisting government orders, saying there had been no swine fever outbreaks in their regions.
After 31 mayors in the southern Pazardzhik district issued a joint statement saying they would not allow the culling to proceed, Agriculture Minister Desislava Taneva extended the deadline for culling in the area from Aug. 2 to Aug. 11.
Bulgaria is one of the poorest European Union member states and almost every household in rural areas keeps home-raised pigs.
Representatives of Bulgaria’s industrial pig companies, however, called for a nationwide state of emergency to be declared because of the spread of the disease.
Industrial pig producers, backed by representatives of the meat production, meat processing and grain producing industries, called for even stricter measures to curb the contagion, warning it could cause huge economic losses for the country.
Industry officials fear the virus could cause damages of up to 2 billion levs ($1.1 billion).
Analysts say the price of pork in the country has increased by up to 30% in less than a month because of the outbreaks and could rise by a further 15% in the autumn.
($1 = 1.7599 leva) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Susan Fenton and Mark Potter)