It was April 11, 2001, when the National Pork Producers Council called off the 14th annual World Pork Expo. That year the Expo was expected to attract approximately 40,000 pork producers and consumers. In addition to U.S. pork producers, around 2,000 international visitors from 60 countries were planning on attending the event.
“It was a tough decision, but definitely the right decision,” says Barb Determan, who served as NPPC president that year.
The Early, Iowa, pork producer’s comments echo what many in the U.S. pork industry said after this week’s announcement that the 2019 World Pork Expo had been canceled, due to “extreme caution.”
“The health of the U.S. swine herd is paramount; the livelihoods of our producers depend on it,” says David Herring, current NPPC president and a North Carolina producer. “Prevention is our only defense against ASF and NPPC will continue to do all it can to prevent its spread to the United States.”
Eighteen years ago, African swine fever wasn’t the issue though. It was foot-and-mouth, a highly contagious viral disease that the United States has remained free of since 1929, and that year Determan says NPPC was on high alert.
“The threat of foot-and-mouth disease was our concern as it continued to spread across Europe and especially England at the time of our decision. World Pork Expo was really growing as a show and international visitors were starting to come in bigger numbers, including countries with active FMD outbreaks,” Determan says. “We (the 2001 NPPC board of directors) too were operating out of a cautionary position and felt it was the right thing to do. It was our effort to keep the disease from coming to the U.S.”
Determan acknowledges these decisions are not taken lightly and that many other players in the industry are often involved. Before canceling the 2019 event, the NPPC relied on several experts, including veterinarians, an infectious disease expert, government officials, show managers and others to evaluate the situation and risks associated with having World Pork Expo 2019.
“The impact of a foreign animal disease would be tragic — loss of animals, loss of exports, loss of producers in our industry, loss of allied industry, loss of jobs,” Determan says. “We must do everything possible to keep a foreign animal disease out of our country. So many people and organizations play an important role — producers, organizations, governments (state and federal), veterinarians, allied industry, shipping companies and the general public.”
Soon after this week’s announcement, some industry members speculated about the future of World Pork Expo 2020. ASF doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon and could be worse next year.
Global events are important because the industry is a global one, Determan says. However; World Pork Expo needs to be evaluated each year, just like this year’s board of directors did after seeking expertise from different perspectives.
While ASF is the concern this year, Determan says it’s important to remember it is only harmful to pigs, not humans. The only reason ASF has been labeled a “people’s disease,” is the most likely way the pathogen could make its way to America would be by people bringing infected pork product from a country that has ASF.
While the general public might not have been dismayed to hear the 2019 World Pork Expo had been canceled, the announcement may open their eyes to the severity of this disease getting into the country and the part they can play in keeping it out.
“If everyone steps up their game, it will help to keep our U.S. herd safe and healthy,” Determan says.