African swine fever prevention comes down to one thing: biosecurity

Strict biosecurity and accurate movement data needed to stop African swine fever
calendar icon 31 August 2022
clock icon 5 minute read

African swine fever (ASF) was first detected in Africa and by 2007 had spread to the Caucasus region of the Republic of Georgia. In 2014 it spread into the European Union and then into China in 2018. ASF has now been identified in 73 countries, said Dustin Oedekoven, chief veterinarian at the National Pork Board.

In July 2021 the disease was identified in the Dominican Republic, marking the first time it has been identified in the Western Hemisphere in many decades. “The disease continues to spread globally, not only into new regions, but unfortunately spreading within regions as well,” Oedekoven noted.

The proximity of the US to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, along with a better understanding of the dynamics of the disease in the Dominican Republic, raises concerns for the US swine industry, he said. However, while there are some specific risks associated with people moving in and out of the island of Hispaniola, it’s the high number of global travelers that is a threat in and of itself, he added.

Border inspections increase, but biosecurity is key

“The thing that we continually learn is that biosecurity is the most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of African swine fever,” he said. 'Most of the investigations about the spread of ASF into a new country or region typically find biosecurity issues as the cause of the transmission,” he added.

The US Customs and Border Patrol is increasing its inspections at seaports and airports to prevent ASF contaminated products from contacting the US swine population, Oedekoven said.

“But the number one thing we need everybody at the farm level to do is go back and reevaluate those biosecurity plans and ensure that good biosecurity has been implemented on every farm,” Oedekoven noted. “There’s a need for better biosecurity on our farms, whether that's in people movement, pig movement or feed movement.”

Biosecurity may sound like a buzzword, but it is the biggest thing producers can do to prevent the introduction of not only ASF, but any pathogen to their farms, he said.

In recent months in the US there has been an increase in endemic diseases like PRRS and circovirus on pig farms.

“That's somewhat of an indicator that we may have more work to do in evaluating our biosecurity plans,” Oedekoven said.

“It's really important that producers work with their veterinarian to develop a site-specific biosecurity plan, because what may be important on one farm to prevent the transmission of disease may not be the most important thing on another farm,” he explained.

Producers must determine the risks of pathogen introduction within the farm as well as externally, to prevent bringing diseases onto the farm. If there are multiple sites associated to a farm, disease spread must be prevented between those sites, he noted.

Oedekoven said that pig producers have an important resource in the Secure Pork Supply Plan (www.securepork.org) to help them develop an enhanced biosecurity program. He encourages producers to work with a veterinarian to develop their own secure pork supply plan.

Pig movement data

There are millions of pigs in transit in the US at any one time, because the industry is built around just in time movement to the next production segment, Oedekoven said.

Therefore, he encourages farm level producers to create an AgView account (www.agview.com). AgView is a National Pork Board funded database with pig movement data that can be shared with animal health officials in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

“The reason that animal health officials need that information is to quickly respond to the finding of a foreign animal disease and allow for continuity of business for farms that are not affected,” he said.

When it is known where the infected sites are and where the ones are that have not been exposed, it's easier to get the permitting process going for allowing pig movement.

“But it's important to have that data in place ahead of time,” he noted.

On AgView, producers enter pig movement data to be prepared for a foreign animal disease outbreak. The data in AgView is kept private, Oedekoven emphasized. This data is shared with state or federal animal health officials only if needed in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

There are permissions the user agrees to regarding when and how that data is shared, “but it's really important that the data exists and that it's kept in a standard format, so that decisions can be made quickly,” he added.

72-hour ‘stop movement’

The USDA has stated that if ASF is detected on a US pig farm, all pig movement in the country will immediately stop for 72 hours. Once the disease situation is assessed, pig movement should be able to resume to some extent. Having updated pig movement, the data available provides national and state government officials the tools needed to quickly get the industry back in production, Oedekoven said.

The 72-hour ‘stop movement’ period is about as long as the industry can stay still and minimize pig welfare issues, based on space and feed availability, he said. Farrowing barns, piglets needing to be weaned and adult pigs needing to be moved, will all be affected. Therefore, it will be urgent to get pigs moving as quickly as possible, he added.

A strong biosecurity program is and will remain the number one protection for pig farms against ASF. But if it does get into the US, having the pig movement data from producers will help get the industry back on its feet quickly, he concluded.

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