Prevention of African swine fever (ASF) is vital as there currently are no treatments or vaccines to protect pigs from the deadly virus.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other agencies subsequently are ramping up surveillance of foreign animal diseases in the wake of the recent finding of ASF in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean country located less than 1,000 miles from Florida.
The confirmed cases were the first of ASF in the Western Hemisphere in roughly 40 years, following its eradication from Haiti in the early 1980s.
“My biggest fear is some day the (ASF) virus will show up in the U.S.,” said Al Wulfekuhle, a pig farmer who serves on the National Pork Board (NPB). “It’s not here yet, but it just got a lot closer.”
USDA confirmed two separate cases of ASF in backyard swine herds about 100 miles apart in the Dominican Republic July 28. The virus subsequently was identified in nine additional provinces there, according to Rosemary Sifford, veterinarian and associate administrator for APHIS.
“We’ve had surveillance cooperation with the Dominican Republic since 2019 as part of our overall strategy for ensuring the safety of pork (production) in the U.S.,” Sifford said during a webinar hosted by NPB. “We’re interested in expanding that testing. We’re also looking to enhance surveillance in Puerto Rico.”
ASF poses no human health or food safety risks, but it can be quite deadly to swine. China announced a major outbreak of ASF three years ago and continues to deal with recurring cases in its swine herd while the virus also spread to the Philippines and Vietnam and remains a major issue in parts of Europe, including Germany and Poland.
The U.S. responded with increased vigilance at ports – including land borders, airports, seaports, mail services and cruise ships — and will implement new rules beginning Aug. 16 on enhanced bathing and cleaning of imported dogs, which can carry the virus. The importation of any type of pork or pork products from the Dominican Republic or Haiti into the U.S. is prohibited.
“We have a layered approach to foreign animal disease exclusion, with a focus on the Dominican Republic,” said John Sagle, of CBP. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach from the government to address and prevent ASF and foreign animal diseases as a whole. This is a focus.”
Sifford urges hog farmers in the U.S. to continue to focus on biosecurity and enroll in the Secure Pork Supply Program. Information about that program can be found online at, nppc.org/asf or ilpork.com.
What if the U.S. or Puerto Rico confirm an ASF case?
In the event an ASF case is confirmed in the U.S. or Puerto Rico, an unincorporated U.S. territory, Sifford said it would trigger all federal, state, tribal, and local emergency response plans.
“We’d strongly consider a 72-hour (pig) movement standstill to hopefully contain it and eradicate it quickly,” she said.
Shipments could be further delayed as processing plants could have a need to re-establish schedules. Any swine positive for ASF or exposed to it would be depopulated.