Pork Task Force Prioritizes Tactics to Keep African Swine Fever Out

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The National Pork Board’s swine health committee met in January to discuss the latest research and findings in the area of swine health. As you might expect, a large portion of their meeting was devoted to one particularly devastating virus – African swine fever (ASF).

“Not to take away from other diseases, but if we get ASF in the U.S., we all lose,” says Steve Brier, chairman of the National Pork Board’s swine health committee. “The U.S. depends so heavily on pork exports and we’ll be cut off if we get ASF. Every producer wins if we can keep it out of the country.”

Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board, says the committee discussed where the U.S. was at in terms of preparedness and prevention and where the industry needed to go as a result of that discussion. They also expressed concerns about the trouble China’s having with ASF and the spread of the disease into other countries in Asia.

The result? A new ASF task force consisting of nine pork producers and five full-time advisors with one main goal: focus on areas within Pork Checkoff’s purview – research, promotion, education – to determine where the industry can focus efforts to help keep ASF from entering the U.S. 
“We want to do everything possible to keep it out,” says Brier, production director in the Midwest region for Smithfield. “This task force will be identifying risks and doing all we can to eliminate it.”

The task force first meeting will take place on Friday to tackle a list of proposed tactics Webb put together based on July committee discussions. After the task force ranks and prioritizes the tactics, they will develop strategies to address the issues within the mission of the Pork Checkoff and hold people accountable to making sure those priorities are addressed.

“For instance, one tactic might be communicating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to understand the resource needs and areas to decrease the risk of African swine fever or other foreign animal diseases from entering the U.S.,” Webb says. 

A similar process took place back in 2013 when PEDV hit. The ASF task force will meet weekly via conference call to help make sure the swine health committee is doing the most they can to address the issue.

“We've been working on foreign animal disease preparedness for some time,” Webb says. “Way before it was ‘popular’ and rightly so. The average producer shouldn’t need to worry about these diseases, they have other things on their mind. The good news is our work years ago allowed us to develop tools that are ready to help producers should an outbreak occur.” 

Brier says the task force will do everything it can to keep this troublesome virus out. He hopes through the powers and ability of the National Pork Board, they can make a difference. 

“The ASF virus survives so much longer in the environment and the ability for it to catch a ride on another host is a big deal,” Brier says. “It’s a different risk than we’ve faced before. The reports we are getting back from people who have been to China are not pretty.”

For more information on preparedness and planning, visit pork.org/fad. To learn more about what it will take to get businesses up and running if a FAD outbreak occurs, visit securepork.org.

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