Preventing African Swine Fever (ASF) from entering the United States has been a top priority for the domestic pork industry. It’s also one that seems more urgent than ever as the disease creeps closer to our shores. In July, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed that the devastating disease was present in the Dominican Republic, the first outbreak in the Americas in over 40 years. The USDA and other stakeholders are taking the increased threat very seriously and have moved quickly to step-up efforts to prevent the spread of ASF to mainland U.S. Below is more information about ASF, why the Dominican Republic outbreak is so concerning, and the latest U.S. prevention measures.
What is African Swine Fever? Commonly referred to as ASF, is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and feral swine of all ages. ASF is not a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans. While it is not a food safety issue, it can have serious production and economic consequences for the swine industry, including potential export bans on pigs and pork products from affected countries. Transmission of the virus within the herd is generally through direct contact with infected bodily discharges, feces, and vomit. Mortality rate in infected groups of pigs is high and there is no vaccination proven to prevent or cure infection. Most countries have adopted herd culling policies to eradicate the virus when confirmed at a site.
ASF was first discovered in Kenya in 1921 and is now found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and some areas of West Africa. It emerged in the Caucasus in 2007, spreading in subsequent years to countries in the European Union, and, starting in 2018, throughout China, Mongolia, Vietnam, and other countries in the region. It has never been found in the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. An ASF outbreak that began in 2018 in China devastated the countries hog herd, resulting in the loss of as much as one-third of the country’s pigs, though some say the real numbers are much higher. In 2019 alone, the disease cost the Chinese pork industry between $50 billion and $120 billion, according to the Asian Development Bank. China’s pork industry is still struggling to recover.
Why is the Dominican Republic Outbreak So Alarming? The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation located approximately 800 miles from Miami, Florida. The country shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west while the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is just over 200 miles to the east. African swine fever killed 2,200 pigs in at least 24 outbreaks in the Dominican Republic this summer, after having been free of the diseases since 1981. The infections are the first identified in the Western Hemisphere since 1984, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The first outbreak began around July 1 and killed almost 800 pigs in the country’s northwest, and an OIE update published Aug. 8 indicates subsequent testing found infections back to April 10.
What Prevention Measures are U.S. Agency Taking? The U.S already prohibited the importation of swine products from the Dominican Republic over concerns about classical swine fever but USDA and other agencies have rapidly stepped up their prevention efforts. U.S. officials say the top priority is quickly containing and controlling the outbreak within the Dominican Republic, both to protect the Dominican pork herd as well as to stop spread to the U.S. One of the biggest concerns is that OIE doesn’t differentiate between a country and their territories. So if the virus jumped from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, the entire U.S. would be considered “affected,” significantly disrupting U.S. trade patterns. Effective as of September 17, 2021, APHIS has established an ASF protection zone suspending shipments of all live swine, swine germplasm, swine products, and swine byproducts from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland United States
Additionally, Customs & Border Protection is working to step up their surveillance efforts to keep any and all prohibited products from entering the country. That includes garbage from other countries that may enter the U.S. via ships and airplanes. APHIS officials also announced immediate restrictions on importing dogs from countries with ASF. Importers now need to affirm dogs and shipping containers are free of dirt or other organic bedding, among other restrictions. Additionally, wildlife services are working to conduct feral swine control. There has been a plan to eradicate feral swine over a six year period, but in the wake of this outbreak, more resources are now being put into that plan, with the goal of cutting the population in half over the next 15-18 months.
What is the Potential Threat to the U.S. Pork Industry? Dr. Chris Rademacher, a clinical professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the AASV board of directors, said that, if ASF reaches the U.S., including its territories, the loss of trade markets alone could cost pork producers at least $14 billion in the first two years. He noted that the virus is hardy and resilient, and it can remain viable in meat products that are cured but not fully cooked, in garbage arriving from airplanes or cruise ships, or on the clothing or shoes of people visiting countries with infections. The USDA and APHIS just completed a series of webinars on ASF and the actions being taken to prevent its spread to the U.S., as well as biosecurity measures that producers can implement now to protect the country’s herd. Check it out HERE.