Determining the Risk of African Swine Fever in Vitamins

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

Are you asking the right questions about where your feed ingredients come from? On April 26, the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) and the University of Minnesota invited vitamin and premix manufacturers to gather for a discussion on vitamins and the process involved prior to delivery to a producer’s farm with a special focus on African swine fever (ASF) transport and transmission risk.

Vitamin suppliers are responsible for ingredient safety to minimize the opportunity for virus introduction. However, pork producers are responsible for knowing their suppliers and asking the right questions to screen potential suppliers that do not follow standards of safety, according to the executive summary from this meeting.

“The workshop was convened to look at vitamins and premixes produced in areas of the world that have diseases foreign to the U.S. that might pose a risk to U.S. pig health if imported,” says Paul Sundberg, DVM, executive director of SHIC. “One of the points of discussion of the workshop was about quality control procedures for both human and animal grade vitamins. It was pointed out that manufacturing plants are generally dedicated facilities in urban areas with third party certification programs in place.”

One of the participants, Jon Bergstrom, senior technical support manager at DSM Nutritional Products, says vitamins for food and feed are produced in secure facilities. Most vitamin manufacturers produce human and animal grade vitamins using the same quality assurance and controls that meet human grade standards.

“Premier suppliers are already producing vitamins in accordance with high standards, certifications and verifiable quality audits. Premier suppliers often apply the highest accepted standards recognized globally for quality and safety,” Bergstrom says.

Participants agreed, however, that a comprehensive description of the entire vitamin supply chain is needed. Many vitamins are produced exclusively in China, while some are also primarily produced in China by a few manufacturers. 

Although most meeting participants consider the risk of ASF introduction from vitamins to be low, they also believe that, if contaminated, some vitamins could be a vehicle for virus introduction into the U.S. Understanding the supply chain for every ingredient, especially essential ingredients that cannot be sourced locally, is increasingly important. 

“An improved understanding of the vitamin supply chain will provide greater transparency about the high quality and safety standards that premier suppliers have already been using for many years,” says participant Jon Bergstrom, senior technical support manager at DSM Nutritional Products. “Pork producers will become more confident in sourcing safe, quality vitamins that provide the greatest value with the least amount of risk.”

Preliminary observations of vitamin manufacturing
Vitamins are produced by chemical or fermentation processes that use time, temperature and pH conditions that would likely inactive viruses. Post-processing sanitation and transportation practices are crucial to avoid cross-contamination, the summary said.

Most vitamins are produced and shipped to the U.S. at the highest concentration possible so almost no blending with carriers or post-processing take place until the product is in the U.S.

Gelatin coatings that are applied to some vitamins to provide stability and reduce potency losses could be a source of virus in vitamin products. However, the summary said that most manufacturers use multiple processes such as sterilization or extraction that would likely inactive the virus in gelatin.

One concern that was noted is the blending of choline chloride with corn cobs at the country of origin (e.g. China).

A look at the vitamin supply chain
From a supply chain standpoint, most suppliers pack vitamins in sealed containers and have extended chain of custody of products by at least 80 days. The summary said additional holding times may decrease vitamin potency. However, current holding times of 90 days from the time of manufacturing and the six-month extended holding time in vitamin premixes before use in commercial feed mills seems sufficient to inactive the ASF virus based on current research.

Third-party certification programs help decrease chances of product cross-contamination with blood, feces and animal products that could be contaminated with the ASF virus. However, all participants agreed that the existence of unconventional, non-certified or uninspected suppliers may pose a heightened risk of ASF introduction. 

“Know your vitamin suppliers,” the summary said. “Request documentation to verify that vitamin sources use certification programs. Using a simple questionnaire or decision tree for pork producers may help with screening vitamin suppliers.”

View the feed ingredient safety resource with a decision tree and feed-related questions. Discover how you can ask a few questions to screen suppliers to identify legitimate manufacturers and blenders and weed out the brokers or traders who do not know their sources or the procedures used to safeguard quality.

Bergstrom urges producers to establish a relationship with their supplier that values more than price – develop a relationship that factors in product quality, safety and service.

Communication needed
The workshop participants agreed that a clear, transparent and unified message is needed to educate both the feed and pork industry to decrease confusion and suspicion of the perceived risks of virus transmission in the vitamin supply chain.

The risk of ASF introduction may be low through vitamins, but it can’t be guaranteed if industry standards are not followed.

“There are much greater sources of risk (movement of people, animals, etc.)  for the entry of ASF into North America than vitamins,” Bergstrom says. “However, for the industry, I think the biggest challenge is that there may be some who mistakenly assume that the risk is ‘zero,’ and may be willing to source lower-cost vitamins from less scrupulous suppliers.”

For more information, read the executive summary.

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