Foreign Animal Diseases are a Bigger Threat Than COVID-19

Biosecurity and Hogs 060320

When walking into the JWV Pork office in Washington, Iowa, be prepared to sanitize. For pork producers such as Heidi Vittetoe, biosecurity and being ready for the next threat is nothing new. 

COVID-19 is a concernVittetoe says, but it’s different than foreign animal diseases, especially African swine fever (ASF). 

ASF preparation was already keeping organisms and animals separateshe adds. The changes brought on by COVID-19, such as locking the office door to keep traffic to a minimum and people not having childcare, are different.  

For ASF preparation, we had gone to using clean trailers to do our top outs when we sell at barns,” Vittetoe says. “We also make sure there are no building breaches, like the bottom of doors aren’t eroded away where rodents can get in.” 

While COVID-19 and foreign animal diseases are both a threat, industry experts believe diseases are a bigger concern. 

Dave Pyburn, a veterinarian with the National Pork Boardsays the top three diseases are classical swine fever, foot and mouth and ASF. While ASF receives the most attention, it might not be the biggest threat. 

“When you look at classical swine fever and foot and mouth disease, they are in more countries than African swine fever at this time,” he says. “Many of those countries are closer to the United States as well.”  

ASF might be receiving less attention now due to COVID-19’s impact in the U.S. and less air travel but Pyburn says the ASF situation has not necessarily improved. 

“In fact, we might be a little worse off,” he explains. “In the last couple of months, we’ve seen an additional country, India, also declared they are positive for the virus.” 

Pyburn has been keeping in touch with folks in China and Vietnam who say ASF is continuing to spread in those countries. 

If ASF were to find its way to the U.S., it would likely mean the end of exports, at least temporarily. 

“There could be some exceptions,” says Dan Halstrom, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. “Yes, the vast majority of exports would initially shut down. It would be similar to what we saw on the beef side with BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] in 2003.” 

On their Midwest operation, Vittetoe continues to monitor and make adjustments in an effort to keep whatever comes next, out.  

African Swine Fever Webinar Brings Together Leading Experts 
On Friday, June 5, Farm Journal’s PORK is hosting an ASF update webinar with leading industry experts, including Gordon Spronk, DVM of Pipestone Veterinary Services; Liz Wagstrom, NPPC chief veterinarian; and Patrick Webb, 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