African Swine Fever could cost assorted industries billions of dollars
If the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus enters the United States, the repercussions will be felt throughout the agriculture sector and beyond, said Scott Dee, DVM, director of research at Pipestone Veterinary Services.
The losses will be “not just to agriculture, but to the grain markets, livestock markets in total and tourism,” Dee said. “Nobody wants to come to these countries with these foreign animal diseases, be it foot-and-mouth or cholera, and it would be the same with African swine fever.”
Long found mostly on the African continent, ASF virus has been reported in several Eastern European countries in recent years, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and parts of Russia. More recently, the virus has spread to China and been discovered in the wild boar population in Belgium.
The ASF virus has never been found in the United States, which exports about 27 percent of its pork. But there are fears that it could get here some day in part because of its ability to survive in certain feed ingredients imported from China.
“It’s a very large, stable virus,” Dee said. “So, it can survive outside the host in the ground in meat, under extreme temperatures.”
In fact, he continued, of the 12 viruses tested in a simulated journey across the ocean, ASF virus was the only one that survived the journey on its own.
The virus is also difficult to control — a problem compounded by the lack of a vaccine and high mortality rate of some of its strains, Dee said.
“If we ever got it [in the United States.], it would shut down all our exports,” he said.
Still, Dee said he is encouraged by the pork industry’s preparations to effectively manage this virus – compared to five years ago when the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus first spread to the United States.
“Everything was so reactive,” he said. “We were learning on the fly. We had to work, basically almost backwards.”
“This time we’re moving forward,” he continued. “We’ve got information on its survival in feed ingredients. We understand feed ingredients now as a risk factor. We have a whole bunch of data that we never had before in the case of PED.”
He praised the feed industry for being proactive and aggressively re-evaluating its procedures at manufacturing plants in Asia, including quality control and the monitoring of temperatures, pH and storage time to enhance viral decay.
“That’s so different than how the industries thought in the past,” he said. “I really applaud the feed industry.”
Dee also lauded the federal government for stepping up its efforts to keep out meat products from ASF-positive countries currently experiencing epidemics.
“They’re searching in airports, finding illegal contraband coming in,” he said. “A lot of it is meat products. So there’s been a ramp-up of that. There’s the beagle brigade…you see them in the airport. They got a big job to do. They’re sniffing suitcases for meat.”