Keep Your Eyes on African Swine Fever

( Lori Hays, Farm Journal )

When life gets interrupted, it’s easy to take your eye off the ball. 

As I look back on the spring, I’m not sure what my eyes were on. It feels like a pretty big blur of COVID-19, uncertainty, packing plant disruptions, heartache and oh yes, a little remote learning and a few new office buddies. I needed to keep my eyes on the ball, but which one?

When life as you know it is canceled until further notice, you take inventory of the things that matter and the things that don’t. While visiting with industry leaders during this time, much of their focus was on helping producers weather the COVID-19 storm. Because of this, some projects were put on hold; but one thing that didn’t change was a focus on foreign animal disease prevention and preparedness.

Although it seemed like diseases like African swine fever (ASF) took a backseat during the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis taught the industry an important lesson about disease outbreaks: more work is needed.

In June, Farm Journal’s PORK hosted an ASF webinar with industry experts 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, to explore the current state of ASF and what the industry has learned from COVID-19. Here are four lessons they shared.

1. We need more research and funding at the federal level.
The industry quickly learned that more research is needed related to depopulation and disposal. The national veterinary stockpile is short on the equipment that the U.S. pork industry would need to do any type of high-throughput euthanasia or depopulation, Webb said.

2. We need effective response plans.
It’s one thing to have response plans, but we need to test them and make sure they work, Webb explained. Everyone knows an ASF outbreak would cause major disruption in getting pigs to market. But COVID-19 reinforced the importance of moving hogs through the production chain in a crisis. “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,” Webb said.

3. We need more testing methodologies and the ability to interpret the tests.
Testing, because of the nature of the ASF virus, requires early detection, Spronk explained. Valid diagnostic tests and effective vaccines are necessary. “Along with the testing, we need to be able to interpret the tests,” Wagstrom said. “I think there’s a lot of confusion around testing. Shame on us if we don’t get some of those answers taken care of before we have to deal with them during an outbreak of African swine fever.”

4. We need to be able to rapidly determine where disease is and is not.
Later this year, the National Pork Board will release AgView, a database and dashboard technology that would communicate critical information with state animal health officials in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak. AgView will allow the state vet to see data in “breaking pictures” – who’s in that area, movements in and out of that area and the status of those sites in that area.

We know COVID-19 is far from over. But if we look hard enough, we can see the value of lessons learned now that could help us in the future. Let’s stay focused and not lose sight of one of the greatest threats to the U.S. pork industry.

Watch the webinar

More from Farm Journal's PORK:


African Swine Fever: Trust Your Instinct, Be Prepared

Economists Forecast Hog Prices Following USDA Quarterly Report

Don’t Take Your Eyes Off of African Swine Fever

From the Streets to the Swine Barn