African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to spread across the globe and the economy is seeing the impacts. Is there a cure in sight? How long until it enters the U.S.?
ASF Fast Facts
African Swine Fever is a severe virus that causes a haemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in pigs. In some cases, death can happen as quickly as a week after infection. Haemorrhagic fevers commonly affect organs and damage blood vessels
The disease can spread by live or dead pigs, domestic or wild, and pork products. Fortunately, it only impacts pigs, not people, so it is not a public health threat or food safety concern. However, it results in serious production and economic losses.
Countries with confirmed cases are subject to international trade restrictions. Hopefully, this will reduce the risk of introduction of the disease to more countries through trade. The United States is taking particular caution with the situation because they have never had a case of ASF. Many USDA organizations are enforcing strict animal health and import requirements to prevent entry into the U.S.
Read more at pork.org.
Economic Effect of Fast Spreading Disease
African Swine Fever is spreading fast across the globe. For example, more than 10 percent of Mongolia’s total pig population have died from ASF outbreaks. China is expecting reductions in heard size by up to 200 million pigs this year.
Learn more at fao.org.
The economic heartbreak from the outbreaks is severe. China, the world’s top pork consumer, imported a record volume of meat in May. They purchased 556,276 tons of meat, up about 45% from last year. Unsurprisingly, pork imports surged the most with a 63% increase. Despite the great need for pork, China expects to see a cap on their imports because other countries are facing the same problems and trade disputes continue with the U.S.
“There will not be enough meat elsewhere for China,” said Huang. Pork prices in some areas of the country have recently picked up despite low seasonal demand, indicating tight supply is looming, Wholesale pork spot prices were at 21.55 yuan a kilogram on June 14, up 12% from the same period last year.”
Vietnam serves as another example where 2.8 million pigs have been culled. Earlier outbreaks appeared mostly at small household farms, but have now started to occur at larger industrial operations.
“This is a very worrying sign as these farms have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of pigs each and therefore the damages would be significant,” the government said in a statement posted to its official website.
A recent June update shows ASF has spread to farms in 60 of the country’s 63 provinces. Pork makes up three-quarters of total meat consumption in Vietnam, a country with a 95 million people. Their pork industry is valued around $4.03 billion. The outbreaks of ASF are heartbreaking and Vietnam is just only of many countries feeling the effects.
Race for a Vaccine
African Swine Fever is not a new term for the global Ag Industry. In fact, the disease has been around for decades, but it escalated recently into what is being called “the biggest animal disease outbreak ever.” It is now spreading like wildfire and is threatening the global supply of pork products. China has put nearly $15 million towards research on the virus hoping for a quick cure.
However, ASF is complex, making it hard to develop a vaccine. Katarina Zimmer from The Scientist writes about the technicalities.
“Its double-stranded DNA genome can span an impressive 190 kilobases and codes for almost 170 proteins, dwarfing many other viruses, such as Ebola (some strains have only 7 proteins).”
Some scientists have learned the most effective way to produce immunity is to expose animals to a less violent strain of the virus. This method was successful in tackling a similar pig virus, classic swine fever. Another alternative incorporates genetically modified viruses. Experts say the gene-deletion approach is currently the most advance vaccine candidate. However, due to safety and effectiveness, it will likely be several years before this can be deployed.
A vaccine may only be a partial solution to the ASF epidemic, says Dirk Pfeiffer from, City University of Hong Kong and the UK’s Royal Veterinary College. “Vaccine efforts have to go alongside with increased biosecurity around farms to be effective.”
What Should the U.S. Do?
The Unites State’s largest focus is prevention. It is vital for everyone to know about ASF and how to prevent it to keep the U.S. pig pollution healthy. The USDA has released multiple resources for education and prevention.
Learn more at aphis.usda.gov.
USDA is monitoring the recent outbreaks of ASF in Asia and Europe, and has proactively taken steps to increase our safety efforts to keep the disease out of the country. Cargo, passengers, and production arriving from ASF affected countries are carefully being inspected. Imports are restricted from affected countries and detailed response plans are in place should a detection occur in the U.S. Additionally, states are collaborating to ensure producers follow strict on-farm biosecurity protocols and best practices. Finally, the U.S. is expanding testing capabilities and testing capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.
Spreading awareness is the number one way to prevent African Swine Fever. Knowing how to detect ASF, following biosecurity rules, and taking precaution when traveling abroad are just a few ways you can help prevent the disease from entering the United States.