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Focus on setting ASF priorities

Focus on setting ASF priorities

If African swine fever makes its way to the U.S., which is highly likely, the ability for industry to respond quickly and effectively is critical.

With African swine fever (ASF) continuing to spread through China, the focus in the U.S. remains on that of minimizing the risk for U.S. producers and the establishment of an effective response system should the virus emerge, said Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC), during an emerging disease session held as part of the 2018 North American PRRS Symposium in Chicago, Ill., in early December.

Sundberg noted SHIC’s ongoing preparedness effort includes that of looking for gaps in domestic swine disease surveillance and testing. In the case of ASF, he said domestic surveillance for the disease is critical yet currently lacking. Likewise, the U.S. industry has noted that classical swine fever (CSF) surveillance tissue testing needs to be expanded to include tissues veterinarians are likely to submit during disease investigations, and the U.S. industry doesn’t have a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-validated pseudorabies virus (PRV) nucleic acid detection (PCR) should this disease reappear in U.S. domestic swine herds. If any of these diseases are suspected in the U.S., veterinary diagnostic labs (VDLs) need to be prepared with the tools to quickly and accurately diagnose these potentially devastating foreign animal diseases.

During the recent meeting of the U.S. Animal Health Assn. (USAHA) in Kansas City, Mo., the hog industry cast its support in favor of resolutions that would strongly encourage USDA to help fill these gaps and, ultimately, protect the health of the U.S. swine herd.

SHIC, the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) jointly authored and offered three important resolutions individually addressing ASF, CSF, and PRV during the USAHA annual meeting. The pork industry resolutions request immediate surveillance for ASF, ask USDA to expand and harmonize accepted tissues to test for CSF and ASF because it is possible they could be clinically similar or be confused with current disease and ask for a PRV PCR test to be validated by USDA for use in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) labs.

At this time, USDA has no formal ASF surveillance program that is active in the U.S. “We don’t think right now that we have the capacity to test at the level that would be needed in order to properly respond should ASF be found in the U.S.,” said Sundberg during the special session in Chicago.

An ASF surveillance exercise is being set up for 2019, details of which are presently being worked out. The exercise is expected to include the U.S., Mexico and Canada, said Sundberg.

Preparedness is critical, and there is a lot at stake should ASF make its way to the U.S. Based on numbers that are now some seven years old, it is estimated that the impact from ASF could be losses of $8 billion for pork, $3 billion for beef, $4 billion for corn, and $1.5 billion for soybeans.

The risk of ASF for U.S. hog producers is indeed very real considering today’s open borders to international products/cargo and air travel bringing in people from infected countries daily. The big unknown for the hog industry, Sundberg said, remains that of imported feed and feed ingredients. While USDA does not consider imported feed and feed ingredients to be a known risk at this time, he said it is an area that the hog industry must, and will, continue to evaluate in great depth.

As of Nov. 23, China had reported 73 domestic pig outbreaks of ASF in 47 districts and 20 provinces amounting to some 600,000 pigs. China also had reported the finding of ASF in a wild boar. The general thinking, Sundberg noted, is that the incidents of ASF in China are not being fully reported. Also concerning is that the size of the infected herds in China is rising. “This isn’t just a backyard virus. It is getting into the big production systems in China,” Sundberg said.  

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