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IDALS works to prepare for potential African swine fever outbreak

The ongoing spread of African swine fever has experts concerned about the long-term damage it could cause to agriculture.

Preparations are being made in the event the spread becomes a full-fledged outbreak.

African swine fever was first detected in Kenya in 1921. The disease is spread among pigs by direct transmission through bodily fluids or by consuming contaminated meat discarded by humans.

The highly-communicable disease started being reported in 2014, alarming veterinarians and livestock producers around the world.

Dozens of outbreaks have occurred in China since the first case in that country was reported there Aug. 3. China has culled thousands of pigs in an effort to curb its spread.

The disease arrived in western Europe this fall for the first time ever, in what officials believe is a simultaneous outbreak. The World Organization for Animal Health believes humans are responsible for spreading the disease to Belgium.

In that country, 4,000 domestic pigs have been culled in the hopes of prohibiting its spread. So far, 13 countries have banned some sort of pork imports from Belgium: Taiwan, South Korea, Serbia, Singapore, China, Belarus, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, Uruguay, Malaysia and India.

More than 361,000 infected wild boars and domestic pigs worldwide have been reported to the organization, with more than 119,000 deaths so far this year. Infected pigs develop hemorrhaging lesions on their skin and internal organs. They usually perish within 10 days of infection.

The impact of African swine fever is devastating to a farm. Once the virus is diagnosed and confirmed, the entire farm’s herd must be eradicated. Just like foot and mouth disease, swine flu and other devastating diseases, African swine fever can be passed along by boot sole, tire and even via blood, tissue and secretions of sick or deceased animals.

According to Brenda Boetel, professor of agricultural economics at University of Wisconsin — River Falls, an incident of American swine fever would have serious far-reaching implications. The U.S. is on target to produce more than 26 billion pounds of pork this year and more than 22 percent will be exported.

“Should the U.S. become infected with ASF, the impact on pork prices would be severe even if we can keep some of our export trade with regionalization,” she noted.

Handling an outbreak

The first step after an outbreak is to restrict movement of pigs and pork products from affected to unaffected areas and eradicating herds on at-risk farms. The European Union has mapped out contingency plans to combat African swine fever, including enacting hunting bans in affected areas, controlling the movement of animals, surveillance, implementing high levels of biosecurity in all operations and farms, tracking and block the illegal trade of pig products and further educating producers.

Andrew Hennenfent, emergency management coordinator for animal health with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said he and the department are working hard to be prepared in the event this disease makes it overseas to America.

The goal is to stop its spread “as quickly as possible” and “minimize its impact as much as possible.”

“African swine fever has made its way into the swine system in Russia, Europe and China,” Hennenfent said. “It’s pretty rampant in China right now. So we’re working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal partners to control what happens in Iowa. We’re watching live animals and imports.”

Vigilance is especially important in the Midwest and big pork production states like Iowa, he noted.

“It’s always on everyone’s mind, especially with what the U.K. went through with foot and mouth disease, which is another one we watch,” he said. “We’re also watching avian influenza because, while it isn’t a persistent risk like FMD and African swine fever, wild fowl, geese and ducks naturally migrate every year and are crossing paths with our poultry operations.”