By now, you probably are accustomed to hearing about the heavy toll that African swine fever (ASF) is taking on many nations. Most notably this includes China, where experts predict the disease will result in a loss of 200 million pigs from its national herd by year’s end.
That’s close to twice what the U.S. produces in an entire year. Yet, this grim statistic is but another column to add to the overall tally of what ASF has done to more than 40 countries worldwide over the past five years.

With the U.S. pork export market valued at $6.39 billion in 2018, according to USDA, there’s no wonder why ASF has dominated industry dialog. If a foreign animal disease (FAD), such as ASF, enters the United States, U.S. pork exports likely would be halted for an unknown amount of time.

Coupled with the near 100% fatal nature of ASF for infected pigs (remember, humans are not affected), preventing this virus from entering the country is paramount, according to Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff.

“It’s also why the pork industry and its partners have come together to mount a serious defense to this massive threat,” Pyburn said.

Big Virus, Big Response

“As the world’s biggest producer and consumer of pork, China is facing a huge challenge,” Pyburn said. “And as China battles a tenacious virus that has no viable vaccine, we’ve had to get even more serious about protecting the national herd.”

Since August 2018 when the world learned about China’s ASF outbreak, the Checkoff, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) have collaborated on strategies and tactics to keep ASF from reaching U.S. shores.

Communication has been key, both here and abroad. For example, Pyburn and several colleagues recently gathered in Canada to exchange ideas about how to keep ASF out of North America.

Earlier this year, the Pork Checkoff was instrumental in creating the National Swine Disease Council with key industry leaders from NPPC, SHIC, AASV and the North American Meat Institute. The council is made up of state veterinarians, ad hoc federal animal health advisors and influencers in the pork and allied industries. Its mission is to provide recommendations to mitigate threats and negative impacts to the U.S. pork industry from diseases of concern.

Sniffing Out Trouble

For its part, USDA has ramped up its tactical plan to prevent ASF from entering the country, including using more beagles at U.S. ports to sniff out pork being brought into the country. USDA also offers comprehensive ASF-related posters and an ASF hotline for industry at (866)536-2593.

USDA added ASF testing to the existing surveillance program for Classical swine fever to enhanced overall U.S. surveillance capabilities.

“We don’t have all of the answers, but we’re committed to working together to fight this battle,” Pyburn said. “We learn more each day, and we’re determined to share that information with producers and other industry partners to keep our pigs healthy and free of an FAD.”

Mike King

Mike King

Director of Science Communications