Concerns that a foreign animal disease (FAD) could reach the homeland grew for U.S. pork producers on Aug. 3 when Chinese government officials announced the country’s first case of African swine fever (ASF) in a northeastern province. What started with a few pigs in a modest pig production region has since spread to multiple confirmed cases in China.

While the United States has never had a case of ASF, China’s exposure elevates the risk, given the substantial human and cargo traffic that moves between the two countries. The ASF virus can be highly contagious and can spread quickly.

An Ever-Present Risk

It’s often forgotten that ASF is endemic in Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy, and in various African countries. ASF gained broader international attention in recent years when it surfaced in the republic of Georgia in 2007. Since then, it has marched into Russia, the Caucasus, thve Baltic states and Poland, with the spread primarily associated with the rising wild boar population in Europe.

Last month, ASF reached Belgium, with the virus confirmed in multiple wild boar carcasses in a southern province eight miles from the French border and 11 miles from Luxembourg. This ASF exposure is a considerable distance from previously affected countries – about 300 miles from the Czech Republic border, 500 miles from Hungary and 750 miles from Romania. It raises tremendous concern for Western European and the hog-rich production areas in Denmark and Germany.

Equally important, the spread to Western Europe may represent a change in ASF’s status worldwide.

“ASF may have reached pandemic proportions, meaning it is occurring over a wide geographic area,” says Paul Sundberg, DVM, director of the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC). “This seems appropriate considering the expansion of ASF in the last year across Europe and over considerable distances in China, as well as the sustained cases in Africa and Russia.”

Swift and Deep Impacts

For infected countries, ASF causes significant hog fatalities and shuts down all pork export sales. Chinese officials have banned movement of pigs in 10 regions.
“An ASF outbreak in the U.S. would disrupt export markets and potentially devastate live hog prices,” said Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes. “If uncontrolled, the outbreak would eventually lead to a downsized U.S. pork industry to the detriment of corn and soybean producers.”

Classical Swine Fever Adds Concerns

Adding fuel to the complexity of FAD concerns is the September outbreak of classical swine fever (CSF), also known as hog cholera, in a herd in central Japan. More than 600 pigs were culled and disposed of per the nation’s response plan. The Japanese Veterinary Services have ruled out the occurrence of African swine fever in this outbreak or in the country

“ASF may be getting all the attention, but Japan’s recent CSF case underscores why it’s so important for U.S. producers and veterinarians to be watchful and prepared,” said Dave Pyburn, DVM, Pork Checkoff’s vice president of science and technology. “It simply reiterates why it’s so important that all producers and the entire U.S. pork industry take these threats seriously and do all we can to improve our biosecurity today.”

For real-time updates on the spread of ASF, click on the map on the Iowa Pork Industry Center’s ASF website.

Be Prepared: Learn about the Secure Pork Plan

Procrastination is rarely a good idea, but with African swine fever (ASF) moving across the globe, now is the time to prepare to participate in the Secure Pork Supply plan (SPS). You can learn more at securepork.org.

“It’s going to take a nationwide effort by all stakeholders to keep this disease from reaching this country,” said Patrick Webb, DVM, the Pork Checkoff’s director of swine health programs. “We all need to commit to immediate action, including preparing for full implementation of the Secure Pork Supply plan.”

If foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), classical swine fever (CSF) or ASF is found in the United States, regulatory officials will limit the movement of animals and animal products to try to control the spread of these very contagious animal diseases,” Webb said. “SPS is about business continuity.”

The voluntary SPS plan is designed to help producers prepare before a FAD outbreak occurs. Participation in the plan will make it easier for pork premises with healthy animals to:

  • Move animals to processing or to another pork production premises under a movement permit issued by regulatory officials, and
  • Maintain business continuity for the pork industry – including producers, haulers, and packers – during an FMD, CSF or ASF outbreak.

Regardless of the FAD, regulatory officials will likely require a producer to meet the following steps before issuing an animal-movement permit. Of course, there may be additional steps required during an actual outbreak. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Request a national premises identification number (PIN) from your state animal health official.
  2. Prepare to protect your herd.
  3. Create a premises map.
  4. Write your enhanced site-specific biosecurity plan.
  5. Implement the biosecurity measures included in your biosecurity plan.
  6. Monitor for FMD, CSF or ASF.
  7. Keep movement records of animals, people, equipment and other items.

The SPS website at securepork.org provides guidance for veterinarians, packers and regulatory officials, as well as training materials for animal caretakers to understand what’s expected of them and how to contribute to herd protection in an FAD outbreak.

“By taking proactive steps today, producers will be ready to fully participate in the SPS plan, which will better protect their farms during a FAD outbreak,” Webb said.

What to do if you suspect ASF

If your herd exhibits high or unusual sickness or death loss, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your veterinarian determines your farm is a suspect case, he or she should report the case to a state animal health official. For more details, review the USDA ASF Disease Response Strategy.

ASF: Know the Signs

Once it enters a herd, African swine fever (ASF) produces extremely high morbidity and mortality rates (as high as 100 percent), according to Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs for the Pork Checkoff. Pigs that survive and recover can continue to shed the virus. The incubation period is five to 21 days after direct contact with infected pigs. Acute disease typically appears within three to seven days. Webb offers these diagnostic tools:

  • The first signs of an infection in a group of pigs may be sudden deaths with few lesions
  • Other symptoms include fever, anorexia, lethargy, weakness and recumbency
  • The animal’s skin may be red and blotchy, especially on ears, tail, legs and rear flank (ham area)
  • Bloody diarrhea may occur
  • Pregnant sows may abort litters
  • For more detailed clinical signs and postmortem lesions, see the ASF Technical Fact Sheet from the Center for Food Security and Public Health

A Collaborative Effort to Protect U.S. Herds

To ensure that U.S. pork producers and veterinarians are informed and prepared to keep herds free of African swine fever (ASF), a coalition is collaborating on prevention and response planning. Participants include the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) and USDA.

“Working together helps keep all of the various sectors informed and prepared, but prevention is the first priority,” said Dave Pyburn, DVM, Pork Checkoff’s vice president of science and technology.

For example, he said that this includes working with USDA to collaborate with Customs and Border Protection and Plant Protection and Quarantine to ensure flights from infected countries undergo enhanced passenger and cargo inspection. Also being considered are increased sampling, monitoring and potential mitigations of imported products that might pose an ASF transmission risk.

USDA’s Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health’s Risk Identification Unit are monitoring diseases around the world, including China, and SHIC provides a monthly report to the U.S. pork industry. You can sign up for the report at swinehealth.org.
“The goal is to increase communications with the USDA epidemiology center to build awareness,” Pyburn said.

In the immediate future, the Pork Checkoff and its partners will be working on a project that would allow producers and veterinarians to collect oral fluid instead of blood to test for foreign animal diseases, such as ASF, foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine fever. Also, the pork industry will hold ASF-specific emergency response exercises with all industry and government stakeholders.

“Working closely with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts will be crucial to the overall FAD-prevention strategy, as well,” Pyburn said. “We want to improve areas such as rapid diagnosis, isolation protocols and elimination of contaminated materials. And since there is no vaccine for ASF, producers and veterinarians need to increase on-farm biosecurity and stay informed.”

Find additional resources at pork.org/fad.

Digging Deeper into Feed Risk Factors

The 2013 porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) outbreak proved to be a warning for a U.S. foreign animal disease (FAD) episode. Along with revitalizing biosecurity and animal-transport protocols, it turned the spotlight on feed and feed ingredients as potential disease transport risk factors.

As a result, the Pork Checkoff funded expedited research to investigate imported feed and ingredients as a potential risk of disease transport.

The United States imports all types of products from China, and research has shown that even previously used, empty shipping containers can pose a risk. Research targeted at modeling conditions of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific feed ingredient shipments showed that the African swine fever virus can survive in certain ingredients that reach U.S. ports and on to feed-manufacturing locations for pigs, according to Paul Sundberg, DVM, director of the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC).

“The entire U.S. pork industry should look at this research and consider ways to help prevent an FAD from entering the country through this route,” Sundberg said.

SHIC, funded by the Pork Checkoff, is overseeing research to test bulk-feed products and apply what’s learned to more effectively monitor shipments for pathogen contamination. Also being investigated with urgency are feed-pathogen mitigation options, feed additives, component holding time and temperature before processing.

Research is looking at hazard analysis, risk-based preventive controls, blockchain strategies, biosecurity measures for feed mills and pathogen survival times in feed and ingredients.

Hope for the Best; Prepare for the Worst

by National Pork Board President Steve Rommereim, Alcester, South Dakota

Keeping trade-limiting foreign animal diseases (FADs), such as African swine fever, out of the United States is critical to pork producers. We all need to improve the overall level of FAD preparedness. We hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst.

I’m very encouraged to see how well our industry groups have come together during this time of heightened awareness of an FAD threat to our industry. It’s reassuring to know that we are using our collective resources to work with the USDA to put real measures in place that can help protect our farms from this potentially devastating disease threat. However, as always, it’s up to each of us to do our part to be proactive in protecting our farms from outside threats as we strive to do what’s right for people, pigs and the planet.

For producers, staying informed is the first and most vital step in being prepared for ASF or another FAD. From preparing for the Secure Pork Supply plan, which will launch next spring, to stepping up biosecurity measures, we can increase our level of readiness. If an FAD does surface within our borders, the Secure Pork Supply plan will help us each get back to business sooner.

If you haven’t looked at the wide range of resources available from the Pork Checkoff to help you prepare for an FAD, I encourage you to do so today. Additional resources are available from state pork producers associations, universities, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, state animal health offices, the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) and the USDA. To get started, look for information online at pork.org/fad, securepork.org and swinehealth.org. Please take a few minutes to review the tips in this newsletter. If we all do our part, we can help protect our pigs and farms.