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USDA to enhance ASF surveillance efforts

APHIS to add African swine fever testing to existing surveillance program for classical swine fever.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 16 that it is furthering its overall African swine fever (ASF) preparedness efforts with the implementation of a surveillance plan. As part of this plan, USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will work with the swine industry, states and veterinary diagnostic laboratories to test for ASF.

ASF is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting both domesticated and feral (wild) pigs. It does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to people. ASF has never been detected in the U.S.

“African swine fever is an area of high interest among the veterinary community and our swine industry, and we continue to take action to prepare for this deadly disease,” said Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “While we are confident that our overlapping safeguards will continue to keep ASF out of the United States, an enhanced surveillance program will serve as an early-warning system, helping us find any potential disease much more quickly. It will also minimize virus spread and support efforts to restore trade markets and animal movements as quickly as possible should the disease be detected.”

To make this program as effective and efficient as possible, USDA will add ASF testing to its existing classical swine fever surveillance. The agency will test samples from the same high-risk animals using the same overall process but will test for both diseases instead of one.

USDA and its partners expect to begin ASF surveillance efforts within weeks and will implement the full surveillance plan over the course of the spring, the announcement said.

The surveillance effort will test samples from high-risk animals, including sick pig submissions to veterinary diagnostic laboratories, sick or dead pigs at slaughter and pigs from herds that are at greater risk for disease through such factors as exposure to feral swine or garbage feeding, USDA said.

In addition, USDA will work with state and federal partners to identify and investigate incidents involving sick or dead feral swine to determine if they should be tested for ASF or other foreign animal diseases.

The surveillance testing of commercial swine herds is in addition to USDA’s overall ASF prevention effort, which includes:

  • Working with officials in Canada and Mexico on a North American coordinated approach to ASF defense, response and trade maintenance;
  • Working with U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at ports of entry, paying particular attention to cargo, passengers and products arriving from China and other ASF-affected countries;
  • Increasing detector dog teams with CBP to sniff out illegal products at key U.S. commercial sea and airports;
  • Collaborating with states, industry and producers to ensure that everyone follows strict on-farm biosecurity protocols and best practices (including for garbage feeding in states where that practice is allowed);
  • Restricting imports of pork and pork products from affected countries;
  • Coordinating closely on response plans with the U.S. pork industry, producers and states to be ready should a detection ever occur in the U.S., and
  • Expanding the testing capabilities and testing capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

USDA said its overall goal remains to keep this deadly disease out of the U.S. For more information, visit APHIS's updated ASF webpage at www.aphis.usda.gov/animalhealth/swine/asf.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) applauded the additional measures.

"U.S. pork producers are already suffering as a result of numerous trade disputes with top importing countries, and an outbreak of ASF in the United States would be devastating," said NPPC president David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C. "That's why it's so important we have a strong surveillance program: to ensure early notification of any spread of the virus. With no vaccination available, prevention is our only defense. We thank USDA for today's announcement and look forward to working with the agency to strengthen safeguards to protect our animals."

The National Pork Board was also pleased with the announcement. 

“This enhanced ability by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to test for ASF simultaneously with classical swine fever only helps to improve the pork industry’s overall surveillance capabilities,” said Dave Pyburn, DVM, senior vice president of the Pork Checkoff’s science and technology department. “As USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach said, this change offers us a faster way to find any potential disease and that is something we always welcome.”

Like classical swine fever, ASF does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans, it remains a top concern for the U.S. pork industry as the virus continues to spread globally.

“We continue to collaborate with USDA and all of our industry partners to find new ways to enhance preparedness for foreign animal diseases,” Pyburn said. “Anything that we can do to improve surveillance and mitigate risk is something we want to achieve so that we can help keep our country free of these costly diseases. We also want to have every possible advantage if these diseases do reach our shores so that we can quickly restore animal health, animal movements and trade for business continuity.”

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