Don’t Take Your Eyes Off of African Swine Fever

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

Foreign animal disease prevention and preparedness have not gone away even though they appear to have taken a backseat to the pandemic. If anything, the COVID-19 crisis is teaching the pork industry a hard lesson about disease outbreaks: more work is needed.

“One of the key things we’ve learned is that the U.S. was not fully prepared for a foreign animal disease outbreak,” says Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board. “We had a number of the plans in place, but we found we didn't probably have all the necessary equipment, or understanding logistically, of how you execute such a plan in an emergency.”

There have been a lot of lessons learned, agrees Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). 

“I have to give a lot of credit to our state associations and state governments about having to deal with some of the issues they're having to deal with – the physics problem on the ground. That will pay dividends to us long-term as we look at disease prevention and response,” Dierks says.

African Swine Fever Webinar Brings Together Leading Experts
On Friday, June 5, Farm Journal’s PORK is hosting an African swine fever (ASF) update webinar with leading industry experts, including Gordon Spronk, DVM, of Pipestone Veterinary Services; Liz Wagstrom, DVM, NPPC chief veterinarian; and Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health for the National Pork Board.

Together they’ll explore the current state of ASF, discuss what the industry has learned from COVID-19 and disease outbreaks, and dig into the challenges that could hinder how the U.S. executes emergency plans in case of an ASF outbreak. Register here.

“We are constantly at risk for the introduction of foreign animal diseases into this country,” Webb says. “Making sure that you've got biosecurity plans in place, that you're adhering to those plans and your employees are complying with those plans is critical. Report suspicious events. If you think that you may have something going on at your farm – even if it’s just a little tingling on the back of your neck that says maybe we need to get the state involved – make sure that you're reporting any case-compatible signs with African swine fever.”

A Look at What’s Ahead
Emergency plan deployment will be a key focus of the panelists. Webb says everyone knows that an ASF outbreak could cause disruption in getting pigs to market and that plants might shutter for a day or two for additional cleaning and disinfecting. 

“But never did we really think that so many packing plants would be shut down for any long period of time like they were due to COVID-19 outbreaks among employees,” Webb says. “As we saw our packing capacity decrease and pigs back up, it was a really stark reminder of the serious ramifications when you stop movements and don't allow animals to move through the production chain to harvest facilities.”

If an ASF outbreak were to occur in the U.S., Dierks says it would be critical to be able to euthanize large populations of pigs very rapidly.

“Our states have come to the point of recognizing they're going to have to work with their state governments to put into place resources that can be held in reserve for the event where there needs to be euthanization,” Dierks says. “One of the learnings that has come from discussions with all the state vets every day, has been we need more resources in the event we have to euthanize.”

Webb plans to share an update on a new tool that will be available to producers this fall that he says will be a game changer when it comes to keeping the industry going during a foreign animal disease outbreak. He believes it will also provide day-to-day value for producers by saving them time and helping them be more profitable.

“If there is any silver lining that comes out of this COVID train wreck for the pork industry, I would say it's a real clear understanding that we're exercising our muscles, building up both supplies and knowledge, and bringing our state vets together to work as a team with the Pork Checkoff, National Pork Producers Council and others. That’s really going to prove some long-range benefits,” Even says.

We know that nothing can replace World Pork Expo, but we will be uniting together June 1-6 for PORK Week across all of our Farm Journal platforms to elevate the important role the pork industry plays in feeding the world. Share your stories and post photos on social media using #PORKWeek to help us honor the pork industry. From “AgDay TV” to “AgriTalk” to “U.S. Farm Report” to and everything in between, tune in and join us as we acknowledge the most noble profession there is: feeding people.

More from PORK Week:

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Ready to Please Your Crew? Try These 5 Pulled Pork Favorites

Q&A Series: Economists Weigh in on Pork Outlook

Q&A Series: Pig Farmers Open Up About the Future

Profitability, Packing Plants & Uncertainty: Pork Industry Post Crisis

Q&A Series: Pork Industry Leaders Explore Ripple Effects of COVID-19