News that African swine fever was detected in the Dominican Republic on July 28 takes on greater importance when considering it could shut down all of U.S. pork exports if it spreads just under 400 miles away to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. As part of its continuing efforts to prevent ASF introduction into the Conterminous United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, APHIS is preparing to establish a Foreign Animal Disease protection zone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the agency says in a notice.
By designating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a “protection zone,” the World Organization for Animal Health designation allows the United States to maintain its current animal health status should there be a detection of African swine fever or other foreign animal disease on the island territories. “Their recognition will ensure the continued flow of U.S. pork and live swine exports,” says APHIS.
When the protection zone is established, APHIS will have processes in place in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to: restrict movement of live swine and products out of the protection zone; conduct appropriate surveillance within the protection zone to quickly detect introductions of disease; conduct a public education campaign relating to biosecurity on farms and other establishments, prohibitions on movement of live swine and products outside the region, contacting authorities to report clinical cases and similar actions.
Lyndsay Cole, APHIS assistant director of public affairs, says it’s important to note that APHIS already has mitigations in place that have prevented classical swine fever from traveling from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. “These mitigations have successfully worked for decades and are the same mitigations that will be used to prevent the spread of African swine fever to Puerto Rico. We are increasing our vigilance of these existing measures, as well as adding more disease surveillance and testing in Puerto Rico,” says Cole.
There are numerous interlocking safeguards in place to prevent ASF from entering the United States. Specific to the Dominican Republic, pork and pork products from the Dominican Republic are currently prohibited entry as a result of existing classical swine fever restrictions. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection is increasing inspections of flights from the Dominican Republic to ensure travelers do not bring prohibited products to the United States. CBP will also be ensuring that garbage from these airplanes are properly disposed of to prevent the transmission of ASF.
The United States, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, remain free of African swine fever, a swine-only disease with no human health implications. There is no commercial pork trade from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States mainland. The United States imports no pork, animal feed or other pork production-related products from the DR.
“We thank Secretary Vilsack for taking this pre-emptive step to preserve the continuity of U.S. pork exports as we continue to work together to prevent the spread of African swine fever to the United States,” says Jen Sorenson, president of the National Pork Producers Council. “We have significantly bolstered U.S. biosecurity defense against ASF since it began spreading in the Asia-Pacific region nearly three years ago and must re-double our efforts given the recent outbreak in the Dominican Republic.”
“APHIS is confident that its many existing preventive measures and mitigations, along with the additional measures underway and announced today, will protect our livestock industry from ASF and ensure the continued export of pork,” the agency says in its notice.
Cole says in addition to APHIS’ many ongoing and increased safeguards, the agency also just announced ASF Action Week for Sept. 13-17: USDA APHIS | ASF Action Week Webinar Schedule. The event will offer an opportunity to continue communicating with partners, industry and others about the importance of being vigilant to keep ASF out of the United States.
USDA, Customs and Border Protection, NPPC and other industry organizations are working together to contain the first outbreak of ASF in the Western hemisphere in approximately 40 years to the Dominican Republic.
The USDA is providing continued testing support to the DR, setting up laboratory equipment and training laboratory personnel, providing personal protective equipment, and offering ongoing assistance on response and mitigation measures. In addition, surveillance and testing aid have been offered to Haiti, as it borders the DR and is at a significant risk for contracting ASF.
NPPC has reached out to the U.S. Department of State to ensure appropriate ASF-prevention protocols are followed by U.S. earthquake relief workers travelling to and from Haiti (e.g. making bleach solutions available to disinfect shoes). The State Department, USDA and USAID are collaborating in this effort.
CBP and USDA have taken a number of steps to guard against the spread of ASF to PR, including support for the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept illegal boat traffic from the DR and Haiti to Puerto Rico. They have also prioritized depopulation of urban feral pigs in PR over the next 12-18 months and are establishing a surveillance lab in PR.
The United States is working with Mexico and Canada to bolster ASF prevention efforts across North America. For example, Mexico has tightened inspection at land and seaports since the DR outbreak. It has also taken appropriate measures to mitigate the risk presented by migrant workers moving between Mexico and the DR.
In addition, NPPC represents U.S. producers on the North American Swine Health Working Group, which was formed by the chief veterinary officers of Mexico, Canada and the United States. The focus of the group has been biosecurity of the North American continent, laboratory harmonization and developing criteria for recognition of regionalization.