When disease threatens the U.S. livestock or poultry sector, the ability to quickly and accurately assess the associated risk and disseminate relevant information is critical, Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC), told the U.S. Animal Health Assn. (USAHA) Committee on Global Animal Health & Trade.
USAHA held its annual convention in Providence, R.I., in late October. Sundberg was part of a panel that discussed risk assessment experiences, approaches and industry needs.
Sundberg reminded those in attendance that the industry moves fast and has little choice but to operate “at the speed of business.”
“We have producers that are making decisions every day with incomplete information, incomplete data, but if they get 80% there, they've got to make a decision. They've got to go on. They can't afford to wait for 100% surety on everything,” Sundberg said.
Sundberg also stressed the importance of state/federal/industry partnerships in rapid risk assessments and rapid risk communication. “It's important that efforts build on, rather than duplicate, each other,” he said.
When approaching a risk assessment, Sundberg noted that research needs to be prioritized, risk communication planned and clearly dispersed and the “low-hanging” fruit picked off first in order to provide producers with an initial direction and basis upon which to start making critical decisions.
Rapid risk assessments should be communicated based on the best information available at the time with the reservation that, as more is learned, revisions can be made. “We don't have to be 100% sure. We don't have to be 100% accurate,” Sundberg said.
In regard to state/federal/industry partnerships, Sundberg said there is great value in everyone working together. The industry can't do this by itself. The federal and state governments can't do it by themselves. The best approach comes when all information comes together to form a rapid risk assessment, he said.
With African swine fever (ASF), one of the things the pork industry has tried to do is look at the risk and identify potential risk avenues leading to the introduction of pathogens in a number of ways. Sundberg said feed and feed ingredients have been an area of interest largely because no one has looked at those before.
The issue with feed is that if the U.S. imports a feed ingredient contaminated with a foreign animal disease, that creates a direct pipeline from that feed ingredient to the pigs. Sundberg noted that traditional biosecurity measures fail to effectively interrupt that pipeline.
“ASF has been termed a kind of white volcanic lava. It doesn't necessarily move very fast, but it moves relentlessly, keeps moving and burns everything in its way. That's really what's going on, and we're trying to figure out if we can stop that lava on one spot on the farm and let other portions of the farm remain productive,” Sundberg said.
He also noted that the pork industry is focused on determining how best to get a farm back to productivity after an ASF infection.