Written by: Leah Wilkinson | September 9, 2019
Roughly this time last year, we started hearing about the first outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) across China. Our rapid response team immediately activated, developing a multi-pronged action plan to address this issue. Now, more than a year later, with the disease still actively spreading across Europe and Asia, we realize that this threat, which has so far stayed outside of our borders, is still of grave concern.
I have represented the American Feed Industry Association on this issue before state allied associations, swine industry groups and with North American government authorities over the past year and attest to the biggest question looming over all of us: What if?
What if ASF crosses the ocean and infects a U.S. farm? Coming from a family of Minnesota swine farmers, the economic and animal welfare impacts of this happening are my greatest concern. It has the potential to change the structure of the U.S. swine industry dramatically and therefore, it would change the feed industry as well.
What if feed is suspected to carry the virus? While research shows feed/feed ingredients can carry the virus if inoculated, many experts have said that feed is unlikely to be the source of the virus entering the U.S. However, we are not stopping because it’s unlikely. Given the nature of our business, feed could be how it’s spread – and quickly – across farms, so we know we must do our part now to take steps to prevent that.
What if Canada or Mexico get ASF first? We know that trade will be impacted, no matter which country gets ASF first. If ingredients are banned, restricted or held due to ASF, it could affect logistics and increase the costs of feeding other species. A major disease outbreak would also affect livestock movement and in that vein, could complicate the movement of feed for other species. Not to mention the impacts to consumers who are looking for affordable pork products on grocery store shelves.
We still have a lot of questions and concerns about this virus, but the main thing is that we remain vigilant.
I think our feed industry has done a good job of coordinating closely with U.S. swine producer groups over the past year to ensure they have the tools needed to talk to their feed suppliers and better understand where their ingredients are coming from and if they are manufactured under biosecure conditions.
We have taken action to close the knowledge gap on ASF by funding, in partnership with other organizations, several research projects through our public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research. We now have scientific data to show accurate holding times for feed ingredients to reduce the risks of them carrying and spreading ASF. We are also working on a study that would elaborate on the steps that would be needed to decontaminate and get a facility back online following an outbreak.
We continue to watch for progress on potential feed additives or vaccines that could provide more tools for feed manufacturers or swine producers to have at-the-ready, should an outbreak occur. But given none are currently federally approved, we know our best defense is to boost our biosecurity practices, and we continue to educate our members on our latest biosecurity guidelines.
We remain engaged in discussions with our nation’s leaders, who are feverishly working to develop a strategy in the event of an outbreak. Our goal is to ensure any policies are science-based, provide protections for producers and minimize trade disruptions.
Despite all of our best efforts to keep this deadly virus out of the country, the question still remains: what if?
Though some within other species groups may view this as “a swine industry problem,” we cannot operate in silos. An animal disease outbreak impacting one species will impact us all.
Let’s put our heads together and continue to learn together on this issue so we can be an even stronger community moving forward. I encourage those within the feed industry or in the various species groups to reach out to me to share lessons learned and help us better prepare for this deadly disease.