African Swine Fever: The Fire Rages On

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since African swine fever (ASF) struck the world’s largest pig herd in the world’s largest pork-consuming country. 

The devastation caused by this disease is expected to affect global animal protein production for more than five years, a recent Rabobank report says. In China alone, pork production is projected to take more than five years to recover to prior production levels. Some experts like Brett Stuart, president of Global AgriTrends, don’t believe it’s possible for China to return to the level of pork production it had prior to ASF.

There’s no denying the magnitude of this deadly virus’ impact on our world. It’s been quite an eye-opening first year for me. I’ll never forget sitting at my first Leman Conference listening to Dr. Scott Dee, Director of Research for Pipestone Veterinary Services, discuss the ability for viruses to be transmitted through feed. 

“We are at risk. As the African swine fever epidemic increases in China, the level of environmental contamination of a very stable virus increases, leading to contamination of other farms, meat and feed. If we keep doing business as usual, our risk increases. If we become responsible importers of essential feed ingredients, our risk decreases,” he said at the conference.

Since then, I can’t count the number of experts I’ve listened to when it comes to ASF. I find it oddly comforting in this challenging time to know we have a great army of talented scientists, researchers and industry leaders working to prevent and prepare for a potential ASF outbreak in the U.S.

It reminds me that even in the worst situations, there are always positives that can be taken away. And in the case of ASF, the preparedness and unity the U.S. pork industry has shown will forever be what I remember from this year.

I am grateful for the African Swine Fever Crisis Team and the African Swine Fever Task Force (among many committees, groups and task forces) who are tirelessly meeting and discussing ways to keep the disease out and maintain consumer confidence and industry reputation if the virus were to make it to the U.S. To date, several groups have coordinated efforts to prevent ASF entry into the U.S. and prepare farmers and allied industry. From border protection to FAD diagnostics and from feed transmission to garbage feeding, they are looking at all angles, seeking answers to questions from pork producers, consumers, feed processors and more.

Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board, said the level of producer and veterinary interest in prevention and preparedness has never been higher. The result has been a lot of good progress in both areas over the last year and he believes they will continue to see progress for the balance of this year and into the next.  

We all face a new reality in the global pork industry. We are in “this” together. What happens in China’s hog herd impacts the U.S. hog herd.  

“China and Asia are going to have to learn to live with ASF and we are going to have to learn to live with that risk,” Webb added.

With no available vaccine, prevention remains the best defense. Although great measures have been taken by USDA and others to protect our animals and the rural economy, NPPC communications director Rachel Gantz said more can be done.

“On this one-year anniversary of ASF spreading in China, it’s important that we remain vigilant to prevent the spread of the animal disease to the United States,” she said. “We urge Congress to fully implement Farm Bill funding for 600 new agricultural inspectors at our borders and ports to ensure we remain on guard to keep ASF out of the United States.” 

We all can make a difference by alerting the appropriate government authority that ASF is a risk to American agriculture and help lead them to take the appropriate steps to protect American agriculture. 

At the end of the day, no one wants to overstate the seriousness of ASF. However, NPPC board member Gordon Spronk with Pipestone Veterinary Services said this year has been one that no producer or veterinarian will ever forget.

“It’s a terrible virus with unprecedented mortality. The rapid spread across the world’s largest swine herd, cascading into different countries, is not over yet,” Spronk said. “One year later, the fire still rages. It’s not a hair-on-fire moment, today, but it’s a fire that’s not out yet. And unfortunately, the fire may not be out for a long, long time.”

A Look Back at the Top 10 ASF Stories of the Past Year

1.    ASF Causes Train Wreck in Slow Motion in Soybean Market

2.    African Swine Fever Death Toll is Underestimated, Suderman Says

3.    Cargill Closes Feed Mills in China Due to African Swine Fever

4.    3 Reasons Why ASF is Not Going Away in China

5.    Gangs in China Fake Outbreaks of African Swine Fever

6.    Large Swine Herd Losses in China Pressure Protein Industry

7.    African Swine Fever Spread: An Update on China’s Slaughterhouses

8.    African Swine Fever Facts You Need to Know

9.    China’s Love of Pork May Not Be Enough

10.    African Swine Fever Losses Take a Toll in China


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