African swine fever (ASF) remains top of mind for Greg Ibach, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During a House livestock and foreign agriculture subcommittee hearing to review the nation’s animal pest and disease prevention and response capabilities, Ibach said he remains confident in the tools the agency has relied on in the past to prevent the entry of ASF into the U.S. and also detailed how the agency remains vigilant in keeping out the disease with new steps.
Ibach said USDA continues to work very closely with the pork industry and a few months ago detailed 17 areas of concern, with feed being one of them. “As we look at trying to address the concerns in feed, we don’t have the same science to analyze risk there that we have in some of the other vectors we are seeking to control,” he explained.
The swine industry is highly dependent on some feed ingredient imports from China, especially in the micronutrient areas, and shutting down all imports of feed from China would actually hurt many U.S. producers. “At this time, in agreement with the swine industry, we haven’t taken any additional steps” to limit those imports, he said.
However, the agency remains diligent in import restrictions from infected areas and focusing on cargo and passengers from high-risk areas. Ibach said 60 new dog teams are going to be deployed to help sniff out any illegally imported products. He said USDA is acquiring those dogs right now, some of which are beagles in shelters of the right age and health status. The training program takes 6-12 months before deploying those dog teams in conjunction with the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.
Finding a vaccine remains another component of addressing ASF. Ibach noted that ASF has proved to be a tough disease for which to find a cure or a vaccine for treatment. He said finding a vaccine that is effective could be as far off as eight years.
Dr. Burke Healey, associate deputy administrator of veterinary services with USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), added that with threat across the globe and recognition that ASF is a worldwide issue, finding a vaccine is a key concern. However, the challenge is that there are more than 20 different types of ASF, so it is “not an easy virus to find a good vaccine for,” he explained.
Ibach said the U.S. and North American counterparts in Canada and Mexico are laying the groundwork for a coordinated strategy in responding to ASF. He said Canada and the U.S. are working more closely because of the live animal movement between the two countries.
In a joint statement Wednesday, the U.S. and Canada's chief veterinary officers, Dr. Jack Shere and Dr. Jaspinder Komal, detailed how the two countries have agreed to allow safe trade to continue in the event that ASF is reported in either country.
“For business continuity, Canada and the United States have worked to modify their export certificates to allow trade of live swine, swine semen, pet food and animal byproducts and meat to continue trade in approved disease-free zones in the event of an ASF outbreak. This builds on Canada and U.S. zoning arrangements entered into by [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] and USDA on Aug. 15, 2018, which set out principles for zoning and trade,” the chief veterinarians noted.
Zoning is an internationally recognized tool used to help manage diseases and facilitate international trade. If a case of ASF is identified, geographic boundaries are defined to contain the outbreak. These geographic boundaries are control zones established in accordance with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. The areas outside of these control zones are disease-free zones.
The importance of zoning and safe trade was echoed by all levels of governments and industry representatives at an ASF Forum, an international event hosted by Canada on April 30 and May 1 in collaboration with the U.S. and supported by leaders from Mexico, the European Union, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization, OIE, provincial, territorial and state partners and the industry.
Ibach said he is hopeful that additional regionalization agreements can be established at a country or state level to limit export restrictions. This will depend on early diagnosis, USDA's ability to contain the disease and assuring trading partners that the U.S. understands the nature of the spread of the disease.
Ibach said APHIS has had varying levels of success at cooperating with Asian countries on ASF. The agency has offered to let China use APHIS veterinarians serving in the Beijing, China, office as technical experts, but so far, they have not accepted the assistance. Ibach added that they’ve also reached out to Vietnam in terms of testing and diagnostics in hopes of field test systems to verify accuracy in identifying the disease.
In the U.S., pork producers marketed more than 120 million hogs in 2017, which provided total cash receipts of more than $20 billion and provided about 25 billion lb. of meat to consumers worldwide. Additionally, the U.S. pork industry supports more than a half-million jobs in the U.S., with the majority of those in rural areas.
In Canada, the pork industry contributes to more than 100,000 jobs and generates close to $24 billion when farms, inputs, processing and pork exports are included. Canada is the third-largest pork-exporting country in both value and volume and represents about 20% of world pork trade. In 2017, 1.2 million tons of Canadian pork valued at $4 billion were exported to more than 100 countries.