In Disney’s 1933 cartoon, “The Three Little Pigs,” two little pigs sang, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” For the people who raise pigs in the United States, that “big bad wolf” is a microscopic virus that can cause a devastating disease in pigs, called African swine fever.
While ASF does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans, the disease is spreading in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe and can be spread by people through shoes, clothes and hands. It also can be in found in pork products.
Few consumers in the United States have heard of ASF, unless they are connected to raising pigs or pork production, because the disease has never shown up in the country. Under Secretary of Agriculture Greg Ibach says, “We want to keep it that way.”
If ASF entered the country, it would not only devastate the U.S. pork industry, not just from loss of animals, but also from other countries refusing to buy U.S. pork and could affect supplies and prices for U.S. consumers too.
The United States has banned pork product imports from countries that have ASF, including China, Vietnam, Belgium, Russia and other Eastern European nations.
“We are also ensuring more focused inspections of passengers and products arriving from infected countries,” Ibach says.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are also in the process of building a virtual “brick wall” around the United States against ASF. Ibach says expect to see additional dogs in the airport inspection area.
There are currently 119 special dog teams trained to sniff out pork products in cargo or luggage and the CBP is getting ready to add 60 more dog teams at key U.S. ports of entry.
“They will be checking travelers’ belongings for prohibited products that could carry ASF,” Ibach says.
For those traveling outside the United States, Ibach urges them to visit the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s new traveler website which provides updated information about potentially harmful pests and diseases that can hitchhike on food or other agricultural products.
“Remember to declare food items in your luggage when you return to the United States,” Ibach says. “Travelers can face serious penalties for failing to declare these items.”
The USDA chief veterinary officer is also reminding pork producers and veterinarians to be vigilant for signs and symptoms of ASF:
- High fever
- Decreased appetite and weakness
- Red/blotchy skin lesions
- Diarrhea, vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
“Please be vigilant,” says Jack Shere. “If your pigs are sick, report it immediately.”
USDA’s hotline to report foreign animal diseases is 1-866-536-7593.