USDA taking precautions against African swine fever

Measures in place to protect U.S. producers from spread of ASF, according to top agricultural leaders.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

February 22, 2019

3 Min Read
Countries with ASF.jpg
Source: Jack Shere Ag Outlook Session

African swine fever (ASF) has been on the mind of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue every day of every week since the resurgence of the disease swept China, he shared at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. With recent news that ASF has spread to Vietnam, Perdue continues to regularly ask his team about the techniques and protocols in place to guard U.S. borders.

As undersecretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory affairs overseeing the efforts, Greg Ibach said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is busy on many fronts to protect the nation’s livestock industry not only from ASF but also classical swine fever and other similar diseases occurring around the world.

Ibach said USDA continues to work closely with the pork industry. “They have fears and concerns. We want to be aware of what those fears and concerns are, and we want to have a good science-based discussion on whether these are things we should be worried about,” he said, adding that it’s also important to see if additional protocols should be put in place to safeguard against disease entry.

Ibach said the agency is reaching out to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection to inform those on the front lines which countries pose concerns. The epidemiology for ASF and classical swine fever is much the same as foot and mouth disease, which offers a blueprint for how to protect against disease entry domestically since it has been kept out of the U.S. successfully for more than 100 years.

Related:Vietnam confirms first ASF cases on three farms

“If you have confidence in what we’ve done in the past in border protection, we’re upping the ante and asking for more surveillance from Customs & Border Protection. We’re using more dogs at the ports of entry for people who are moving, and we’re also talking to producers about biosecurity on the farms,” Ibach said.

Jack Shere, deputy administrator of veterinary services and chief veterinarian at USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, told attendees at the outlook forum on Feb. 22 that ASF is a difficult virus to get rid of and moves in uncured and uncooked meat. “Most of the movement we’ve seen historically has been done by people,” Shere noted. It has an incubation period of 5-21 days, and sometimes, there are no clinical signs of the virus.

Shere added that economists estimate that if ASF was to hit the U.S., it would cost the domestic pork industry $4 billion a year, as pork exports -- which currently comprise nearly one-fourth of total domestic pork production -- would come to a screeching halt. When you account for the additional impact on other commodities that serve the pork industry, you can see how the economic costs multiply.

Perdue, while speaking with Canada's Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, said the North American nations, including Mexico, are working together in their efforts to prevent the entry of ASF to North America. Perdue likened it to a “neighborhood watch” that's designing a program to watch out for each other and establish protocols and standards of protection that all can agree upon.

“By defining protocols, our customers would know that they would be safe from us spreading those kinds of things,” Perdue said, explaining that the tremendous economic issues of sharing the long borders on the north and south make it important to “function together as one.”

MacAulay said he fully understands the devastation if hog exports are shut off. “I would like to sit down and put something together to deal with this issue not after it comes but before it comes,” he said. He related it to how nations deal with bovine tuberculosis whereby, if it is isolated and properly contained, exports can continue.

Perdue said the ongoing mobile nature of the world only increases the likelihood of things transferring from one nation to another. “We are committing even further to up our game in the neighborhood watch,” he said.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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