By Harry Snelson, DVM, American Association of Swine Veterinarians Director of Communications
Earlier this year a delegation including representatives from the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, National Pork Producers Council and USDA visited Poland, Germany and Denmark to discuss African swine fever prevention efforts in each of those countries. The group met with pork industry and government representatives in each country to better understand each organization’s perspectives and activities associated with preventing the introduction of ASF into their commercial operations.
ASF has been on a steady march through the Caucuses, Russia and eastern Europe since the introduction of the virus into Georgia in 2007. The virus was identified in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in 2014. In Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the infected animals were located along the border with Belarus which, to date, has not reported finding any positive ASF cases. Thus far, the European experience has found the virus occasionally in domestic swine but widespread in wild pigs. Numerous reports of infected domestic swine have occurred in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucuses.
In response to the ongoing outbreak, the European Union has regionalized the affected countries into one of four statuses (Parts I-IV) based on the epidemiology of the disease. If the virus has been identified in both domestic and feral swine the region is classified as Part III (ongoing, dynamic spread) or IV (stable and endemic). Part II designates regions where the virus is only known to exist in the feral swine population. Swine located in a Part I region are not known to be infected but are at increased risk due to their proximity to positive animals.
Poland, the fourth largest pig-producing member state in the European Union, represents the farthest west the virus has been detected with recent outbreaks occurring around Warsaw. In 2016, there were 9,544 sows producing approximately 11.3 million pigs on 172,200 farms. Farms housing more than 200 head accounted for 61.5% of the pigs produced in Poland.
According to representatives from the Polish pig producers, ASF has been detected on 107 pig farms and in 904 wild boars. Confirming previous reports that the virus is not terminal in all wild pigs, approximately 3%-5% of the positive cases have come from hunter-killed wild boars. Most ASF-positive domestic herds have been farms with fewer than 20 head although one 1,000-head grow-finish unit also became infected.
To prevent the introduction of ASF and control the spread of the virus, numerous control measures have been implemented by the Polish authorities and producers. These measures include testing all incoming replacements, quarantines and the implementation of control zones, enhanced cleaning and disinfection and fencing. Positive farms are depopulated and the owners are compensated.
The wild boar population is considered a significant risk factor for the introduction and maintenance of ASF in Poland. Veterinarians are also recognized as a risk factor for viral spread as is anyone having contact with infected swine or wild boars. The number of case submissions increased dramatically in 2016 following the institution of incentive payments to hunters and forest workers for the notification of a dead wild boar.
The Polish representatives we spoke with suggested that the most likely cause of viral spread in 2016 and early 2017 was illegal animal movement. In 2017, non-compliance with biosecurity rules has also been identified as a likely route of spread. This includes the use of contaminated straw bedding and grass feedstuffs. Approximately 30% of the “peasant farmers” accepted compensation and agreed to cease pig production for at least three years.
The delegation also visited German and Danish government officials and producers. To date, no ASF cases have been detected in either Germany or Denmark. While Denmark has very few wild boar (estimated to be fewer than 100 head), Germany, like Poland, has a large population of feral swine. Reportedly, hunters in Germany killed approximately 600,000 wild boars in 2016.
The German swine industry is comprised of 1.9 million sows producing 48.8 million slaughter pigs annually. There are approximately 8,000 sow farms. Germany has an insurance policy to cover compensation payments to affected farmers. The premiums are paid by the government and compulsory payments from every livestock farmer. The funds can be used to pay for testing and prevention activities. During an outbreak, funds may be used to compensate for dead animals, depopulation, and cleaning and disinfection. Farmers whose animals test positive for ASF, are in a control zone, or considered a “contact” premises are eligible to receive insurance payments equivalent to 50% of the market value. Public funds make up the remaining 50%. In addition, three companies currently provide optional private insurance to cover losses not covered by the compulsory program.
German officials utilize a risk-based approach to focus routine inspections. They have a stockpile of resources purchased by the industry and the insurance program available to facilitate the outbreak response should it be necessary. Each county in Germany has its own competent veterinary authority which would direct the response to an outbreak.
In Denmark, there are 8,707 pig farms raising 13.4 million slaughter pigs. Danish farmers produce 2 million tons of pork annually of which 95% is exported. There are 12 slaughter plants in the country, 10 are owned and operated by one cooperative, Danish Crown.
Given the relative lack of wild boars in Denmark, the biggest threat for ASF introduction is transportation and human movements. Danish pork producers have adopted very stringent transportation restrictions and cleaning and disinfection procedures. Although voluntary, the system is reportedly followed by over 99% of producers. We visited a truck wash located along the Denmark and Germany border.
Nationally, they wash approximately 26,808 trucks annually at a cost of €2.1 million per year (U.S. $2.6 million). Every truck is tracked by GPS to verify exactly where the trucks have been. The trucks must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before leaving Poland and transiting Germany to return to a Danish pig farm. Upon reaching the Danish border, the truck must be inspected and disinfected again. Following disinfection, the truck driver is issued a color-coded certificate and the data is entered into a web-based database accessible by all stakeholders. The certificate indicates the risk zones visited by the truck and determines the length of time the truck is quarantined before returning to a Danish pig farm.
In summary, everyone we spoke to expressed obvious concern over the impact ASF would have on their country’s pork production. It was interesting to visit three countries whose pork industries were intertwined but with varying levels of resources and risk. In all cases, the objective was to protect the domestic pig herd and a recognition of the threat posed by the wild pig population. Emphasis was placed on strict adherence to biosecurity practices throughout the production system as key to preventing ASF introduction and managing an outbreak. Access to data regarding farm locations, pig movements and transportation was considered critical in all three countries. Database management was sophisticated and controlled cooperatively between the industries and the authorities.