By Joel Penhorwood, Ohio Ag Net
African Swine Fever is in the midst of causing global trouble and all signs point to it likely heading to the United States soon. The hog industry is keeping a close eye on the disease’s next move.
What exactly is African Swine Fever (AFS)? As defined in Hungerford’s Diseases of Livestock it is: “A highly contagious fatal disease of pigs with a great propensity for international spread (Geering and Forman, 1987). It is caused by a DNA virus which is very resistant, can survive in blood at 4 degrees C for 18 months, in frozen carcasses for several years, and in uncanned hams for up to six months. It affects all classes of pigs and warthogs.”
Though AFS does not affect humans, it poses considerable risk to the wellbeing of the swine industry with all hogs contracting the disease requiring termination.
“When it comes to global issues right now, that is something that could be very devastating in the pork industry in the United States. The threat is very real, with approximately 12 million people going back and forth to China every year, that kind of traffic of course concerns us,” said Steve Rommereim, National Pork Board president. “We have a lot of feedstuffs that come from China when it comes to our vitamin pre-mixes and what not. Vitamins are all manufactured only in China. We’ve got a real threat there. We’re trying to determine anyway if that virus can live in the kind of products we go back and forth with. We know it’s transferred through processed meat products. If grandma goes to China to visit and brings something back, albeit illegal it happens all the time — that’s how it broke in Japan, that’s how it broke in Belgium is people bringing things across the border.
“We’re working as much as we can with USDA and some of the other government agencies trying to at least get on top of what that threat looks like, what it is, and how can we prevent the spread of these foreign animal diseases.”
Rommereim said the U.S. has in-depth protection procedures in place if AFS hits.
“There’s going to be a total stop of movement of swine. You can imagine the disruption that would cause. Numbers thrown out — $8 billion lost the first year. This thing has no vaccine. It’s very threatening. These are the kind of things we’ve got to be able to prevent because we’ve already struggled with PEDV in the past,” he said. “We’ve determined for sure that PEDV came from China and we think almost for sure that it was brought over in feed products. How do we prevent that from happening again? There’s a lot of work being done, especially on the research side as to what can we do to stop the spread of these viruses.”
Christine McCracken is senior protein analyst with Rabo AgriFinance. She noted from the marketing side how destructive AFS has been, though there is some silver lining if conditions are right.
“There are massive losses throughout China — 14 different provinces affected at this point,” she said. “This includes most of the primary pork growing areas, with the exception of one. There is a lot of loss there. It’s hard to estimate exactly how much. They’re working hard to get it under control, but given the structure of the industry, that’s going to be very difficult with all the backyard operations they have in China. Our best guess is that they’ll work through and try to stamp out as much as they can, but it will be hard for them.
“We think that could open the door to some imports, either from Europe, which has access. It remains active in pushing product into China, or for the U.S. longer term. We’re facing these tariffs so it’s a little hard to get direct access, but our expectation is that with some of the markets that Europe isn’t able to meet, because of the active shipment of product into China, we might pick up some of those markets. There is that kind of offset assuming that the overall global trade into China increases. We remain optimistic, but there are big losses in China right now and that’s certainly tragic for that country.”
According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, at various times throughout the 20th century, ASF has been endemic in Africa, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Until the last few years, outbreaks were confined to eastern and southern Africa and Sardinia. However, outbreaks in the Caucasus region and Russia have begun to spread to Eastern Europe and pose a great risk for further spread to other European Union countries.
More from APHIS on their emergency management procedures for AFS in this analysis: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/emergency_management/downloads/sop/sop_asf_e-e.pdf.