No country is immune from being struck by the deadly African swine fever (ASF) virus. To date, ASF has been found in 50 countries, has killed millions of pigs and taken a toll on the global meat and feed markets.
“I don’t think the species will be lost, but it’s the biggest threat to the commercial raising of pigs we’ve ever seen,” Mark Schipp, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) president, told the Associated Press. “And it’s the biggest threat to any commercial livestock of our generation.”
Schipp said the sharp reduction in the world’s pig population – around a quarter of the world’s pigs are expected to die from ASF by year-end – would lead to possible food shortages and high pork prices as well as shortfalls in products made from pigs such as heparin, the blood thinner used in people.
“We are really facing a threat that is global,” OIE Director General Monique Eloit told Reuters. “The risk exists for all countries, whether they are geographically close or geographically distant because there is a multitude of potential sources of contamination.”
From the risk of tourists bringing back ASF from an infected country to small breeders using restaurant waste to feed their stock, the opportunities are high for ASF to spread around the world.
“In the short term we are not going towards an improvement. We will continue to have more outbreaks in the infected countries. Neighboring countries are at high risk and for some the question is when they will be infected,” Eloit said.
Unfortunately, controls are often difficult to implement. For example, Beijing issued a series of policies in September aimed at supporting national hog production and securing meat supplies, Reuters reports. But Eloit said the measures still need to be fully implemented.
“There is a difference between what is decided on paper - I do not think there is any concern here - and how we actually get to apply them on the ground especially in countries that are very large, which have a wide variety of production,” she said.
She notes that in Europe, the situation has been different because the outbreaks have mainly occurred in wild boars. ASF has been found on farms in eastern Europe but its spread has been mostly contained due to tight security measures.
U.S. on constant alert
Even though ASF is not now, nor ever has been in the U.S., the expanded global threat demands razor sharp attention, says the Pork Checkoff’s Lisa Becton, DVM, director of swine health information and research.
“On the plus side, steps that we currently employ to prevent other diseases will be important to protect against ASF,” Becton says.
• Know the clinical signs of ASF and other foreign animal diseases (FADs) and how to determine if something is not right. (Available at pork.org/FAD.)
• Pre-identify a herd veterinarian to contact and assist if you suspect clinical signs of an FAD.
• Post important contact information by the farm phone, including names of herd, state and USDA veterinarians, in case of an animal health event.
“Have a current premises ID number for the site where the pigs are located — not at a main office or house,” Becton emphasizes. “Use that PIN now for all animal movements and lab submissions and sign up for the Secure Pork Supply plan at securepork.org.”
For more on the spread of ASF, visit porkbusiness.com/ASF.
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