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Previously the mean annual risk of introduction through an airport (not through pigs) over a cumulative 16 years would be 100%. Tashka-GettyImages

Prohibited pork: Which airports are most at risk?

One important fact to remember regarding this data is this doesn’t mean it infects pigs — it is just the probability of that prohibited product getting out of the airport.

I think it’s safe to say air travel at times brings out the best and worst in people. Fortunately, my faith in humanity was restored this week upon my travels back from the National Pork Forum and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting in Orlando.

When my flight from Chicago to Sioux Falls was cancelled Tuesday evening, I, as several other South Dakotans, decided to take the next best option and rebooked into Minneapolis. After all, another blizzard, ice storm and flood warning were in the forecast and if we didn’t get in Tuesday, it could be Friday before any of us made it home. After we made many desperate calls and tried online booking, one of my fellow passengers had luck, was able to secure one of the last rentals available at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and ensure it had enough space to squeeze in her two sisters, brother-in-law and their new friend Ann.

While we weren’t the only South Dakotans who caravanned back to the tundra and got to know each other better over the four-hour journey, it was a pleasant feeling to see some good come out of the predicament we were unfortunately put in at Chicago O’Hare.

Speaking of airports, this week at the AASV meeting Paul Sundberg, director of the Swine Health Information Center, shared some interesting data on airport risk assessment for bringing in prohibited swine products into U.S. international airports. Before African swine fever in China was first reported in August, a study out of Spain was published, analyzing the risk of ASF and classical swine fever being introduced into the United States through prohibited swine products carried by air passengers and identifying locations and time periods at higher risk where and when preventive and mitigation measures should be implemented.

Focusing on ASF, the overall mean annual probability of ASF entry was estimated as 0.061 at 95% confidence interval [0.007, 0.216]. July and May were the months at highest risk for entry. For ASF, the origin countries of those air passengers that represented the highest risk (above 70% of the total risk) were Ghana, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and the Russian Federation. The study used international travel and U.S. Customs and Border Protection data from January of 2010 to March of 2016.

Since these results were based on data prior to the August 2018 notification of ASF in China, SHIC and the National Pork Board have decided to co-fund a project with the University of Minnesota to update this risk estimate.

During the AASV meeting, Sundberg was able to share some of the preliminary data from that report.

  • Previously the mean annual risk of introduction through an airport (not through pigs) over a cumulative 16 years would be 100%. Now it would only take nine cumulative years to get to a 100% risk. This means by the end of nine years it is expected one of those prohibited products to not be detected and get out of the airport.
  • The five U.S. airports most at risk to have prohibited product come through are Newark Liberty International, Newark, N.J.; George Bush Intercontinental, Houston, Texas; Los Angeles International, Los Angeles, Calif.; John F Kennedy International, New York City, N.Y.; and San Jose International, San Jose, Calif.
  • The two highest risk areas of the world for people coming into U.S. airports are China/Asia and Russia. On an annual basis there is close to 100% chance a contaminated product will be brought into one of those five airports.

Sundberg says one important fact to remember regarding this data is this doesn’t mean it infects pigs — it is just the probability of that prohibited product getting out of the airport.

With this data in hand, SHIC and NPB plan to update the CBP to see how that risk can be lowered. Here’s hoping those efforts are fruitful and security can “batten down the hatches” at those airports. In the meantime, we put our trust in the CBP agricultural specialists and the Beagle Brigade who are there every day, intercepting those prohibited products and ensuring our industry’s safety.

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