Set the Record Straight on ASF and the Pork Industry

Do you think the U.S. swine herd will get African swine fever? I watched her face as she worked to pull together everything she could to come up with the right answer. That’s a tough question for a 13-year-old.

Last night we grilled our daughter with hard questions to help her prepare for her first FFA public speaking contest. Admittedly, we didn’t have all the answers to the questions we asked. 

I’ve listened to countless experts share their thoughts on this horrible disease in the past 18 months. They don’t all agree. And I’m still not sure how I would answer that question. My daughter’s answer: It depends on biosecurity and how quickly a vaccine can be made.

At the Iowa Pork Congress, I listened to Ilia Zubtsov, a PIC technical consultant in Russia, share his experience with this deadly virus. He said, “When people ask me if life with African swine fever is possible or not, I say it’s absolutely possible, but you have to do several things to make it happen.” 

After sharing some of Zubtsov’s presentation with my daughter, I discussed the hurdle analogy from Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center.

“Putting a series of hurdles in the way decreases the chance of a virus getting to our pigs with each hurdle,” Sundberg said in an article last year.

We’re the last hurdle, I explained. Even if the ASF virus gets into the U.S. by contaminated pork product or on the shoes of an international traveler, pig farmers are the last hurdle in that biosecurity chain to protect their pigs and not let it into their operation. It’s a huge responsibility. 

No doubt, it was a heavy discussion, but I couldn’t help but think how important those discussions are because our daughter is on the front lines every day. 

Front lines? I know she’s in junior high school during the day, but oh, what an opportunity she has to advocate for our industry. She may not be the pig farmer who is feeding thousands of people, but she is one voice and her voice can make a difference, I encouraged her.

For example, the morning after the 60 Minutes episode on pig farming and antibiotic use, her social studies teacher asked her what she thought about the show and shared some of his wife’s reactions after seeing the way pig farming was portrayed.

As she answered his questions and explained pig farming practices, she began to see how important those conversations were. She decided to continue the discussion with her local 4-H club the following Sunday and gave a talk to set the record straight on the 60 Minutes report. Her thoughts? Help more kids (and their parents) know the truth so they can share it.

I’m gratified that 4-H and FFA provide young people with critical-thinking opportunities and platforms to share information that’s close to their hearts. A quote from Olivia’s speech comes to mind:

“African swine fever is all over the news today. And, if you’re anything like me, you hear snippets of conversations and jump to conclusions when you don’t hear the whole story. That’s why it is so important to educate the public, so they understand the facts about ASF. Learn more about it yourself so that you can answer questions and explain it more accurately.”

Information is powerful – let’s make sure we get the truth out there and talk about tough topics like ASF. Our industry depends on it.

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

What Did 60 Minutes Miss? Everything, Say Pig Farmers

Is U.S. Pork Safe to Eat?

Will African Swine Fever Push Consumers to Alternative Proteins?