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Don’t be the weakest link

Biosecurity is first line of defense against pathogens infecting a herd, and everyone on the farm needs to be tuned in to procedures.

You must be living under a rock if you have not heard of some form of a wall being requested. Allegedly a desire for a border wall was the reason for the recent month-long partial government shutdown. Well, the government has reopened (for a while anyway), and there was no deal for a wall.

As you should know the wall in question is for the southern border of the United States, in an effort to keep ne’re-do-wells out of this fine country. Though I’m all for secure borders, I’m not sure how much of an impact a wall or fence (or whatever form it would take) would make on keeping out the riff-raff.

American pig farmers know all about building “walls” to keep undesirables out of their herds, whether that “riff-raff” be birds, rodents, viruses or bacterium in an attempt to keep the herd healthy. These walls take many shapes and forms, from netting, bait stations, to vaccines to barn filtration. No barrier is 100% effective, but every level of defense helps.

As African swine fever continues its spread across China and eastern Europe, U.S. producers have added ASF-defense as just another item on their checklist.

It cannot be stressed enough how important tight biosecurity is in keeping your swine herd healthy, and that is amplified even more with the possibility of ASF and other foreign animal diseases making their way to America. Pam Zaabel, veterinary specialist with the Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health, reiterated the importance of producers getting involved in the Secure Pork Supply plan, a voluntary business continuity plan should ASF, foot-and-mouth disease or classical swine fever be found in U.S. livestock. Zaabel, speaking at the recent Iowa Pork Congress, says animal health officials will halt, or at least limit, the movement of animals and animal products should an FAD be detected on a farm. By stopping the movement of animals and product will hopefully slow down or stop the spread of the FAD. More information on the Secure Pork Supply plan can be found online.

Zaabel was joined on a panel at Iowa Pork Congress by Craig Rowles, director of cage-free operations at Versova Management Co., Neal Benjamin, veterinarian with Carthage Veterinary Service, and Jeff Kaisand, state veterinarian with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, as they broke down the very real threat of FADs reaching the U.S. swine herd. Andrew Hennenfent, Emergency Management coordinator with IDALS, moderated the event, and suggested producers participate in various workshops that are being offered to learn more about FAD preparedness.

There is no silver bullet to prevent ASF from infecting a herd nor to keep it from spreading to neighboring herds, as there is no vaccine or treatment. Though the lack of ASF vaccine or treatment may paint a dire picture in the battle against this contagious viral disease of swine, preparedness is the best option.

With the spread of ASF across Eastern Europe, Denmark is literally building what that country hopes is a great defense against the virus venturing into the country from Germany. Construction of a 42-mile physical fence along the German border began this week to keep out wild boars, which are known carriers of the ASF virus. The fence is planned to be completed by the end of the year. The Danish government takes the spread of ASF seriously, as Denmark has more than 12 million pigs, more than twice the country’s human population of just under 6 million. And just like in the United States, Denmark relies heavily on the export of pork products. Should an FAD make its way to the United States, all exports of meat products would be halted.

Skepticism as to the effectiveness of the fence mounts on both sides of the Danish-German border, much like with President Trump’s requested wall. Even if it keeps out the wild boars, will ASF find some other mode of transport?

That is quite possible, as Rowles told those in attendance at the “ASF, SPS, FADs — The Alphabet Soup Panel on Preparedness” that people need to be vigilant in defense against any potential pathogen to infect a herd, to be observant of what is going on in your barns. “We do have a chance if ASF happens here,” Rowles says, “because we have a system in place with the government” and the Secure Pork Supply plan. “The longer you let the virus circulate on a farm, the greater risk of it to spread.”

Rowles learned the importance of early diagnosis from the experience when avian influenza hit the Iowa poultry industry, resulting in 24.7 million egg layers needing to be euthanized. “I left the swine industry because I got sick of getting hit with PRRS every year,” Rowles says with an ironic chuckle.

Adding that good biosecurity is expensive, Rowles says every farm needs a good plan that “has to be more than a ‘keep out’ sign. It has to be comprehensive and you have to live and breathe it every day.”

Zaabel stressed biosecurity’s importance, saying that the United Kingdom found that farms with good biosecurity were five times less likely to become infected foot-and-mouth disease during that country’s outbreak in 2001, “now that’s FMD, but again it does reflect the importance of good biosecurity.”

Good biosecurity on the farm is one thing, but the panel suggests people and product may be the best conduits for pathogens infecting the United States, whether it be on a person’s shoes, a contaminated pork product or a tainted feed ingredient.

“It’s our job to help control what we can,” Kaisand says, when the question arose of coming through customs upon return to the United States from an ASF-infected such as China. “If you’re coming across the border, help them (customs agents) and make sure that you identify things and don’t bring in things that you shouldn’t.”

Just as any team’s defense is only as strong as its weakest player, a wall is only as strong as its weakest brick and a chain as strong as its weakest link. Make sure that you are not the weakest link in your farm’s defense; don’t be the one to let the riff-raff of ASF into America.

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