By Kent Thiesse
Although not yet present in North America, the spread of African Swine Fever in other countries is prompting changes in U.S. disease protocols and could impact the U.S. ag industry economically.
ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that only infects pigs; humans have never contracted ASF anywhere in the world and there is no food safety risk from ASF. Other animals and pets are not susceptible to ASF disease. There is a very high mortality rate in pigs that are infected with the AFS virus, which is typically spread in swine by close contact. The AFS virus can last up to 30 days in fecal material and organic matter, up to 140 days in fresh pork products, and indefinitely in frozen pork. Currently, there is not a vaccine to prevent or control ASF.
AFS has been around for a long time, primarily confined to regions of eastern Europe that were not major hog production areas; however, AFS has now spread into Asia. ASF was first confirmed in China in August of 2018, spreading quickly. By early 2019, ASF had been positively identified in nearly every province in China, and the impacts of the disease continue to worsen. It has now also been confirmed in the southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Mongolia, and is continuing to spread across the region.
China is the number one producer and consumer of pork in the world, producing and consuming close to half of the world’s total pork last year. In 2017, prior to the ASF outbreak, China harvested and processed 700 million pigs, approximately five times the level in the U.S. Now in 2019, it is estimated that 150 to 200 million pigs could die or be destroyed in China as a result of ASF. These alarming numbers are having a huge impact on Chinese pork producers and processors, the Chinese agriculture industry, and the overall economy of the country.
China normally imports approximately two percent of the total pork that is consumed in the country; however, this represents almost 20 percent of the total world pork trade. Major suppliers have been the United States and Europe. Many analysts are projecting Chinese pork imports to increase by 40 percent in 2019 to compensate for lost production.
Based on the expected increased demand in China, U.S. pork prices rose dramatically from late February to early April this year, with the lean hog price increasing by over $25 per hundredweight; however, in recent weeks, lean hog prices have dropped back to more moderate levels.
The U.S. should be in a good position to meet the increased demand for pork products in China, due to the large levels of hog production and pork supplies that currently exist in this country. However, the ongoing trade war with China, which adds about a 62% tariff on Chinese pork imports from the U.S., is tempering Chinese pork purchases from the U.S., resulting in increased Chinese pork imports from Europe and other countries.
USDA is working closely with leaders in the swine industry to develop strategies to prevent and control AFS disease. These collaborative efforts also involve managing the disease, if an AFS outbreak should occur in North America, as well as working on vaccines to prevent AFS. USDA has also initiated a coordinated approach for AFS surveillance and prevention methods.
ASF surveillance and prevention efforts currently being implemented by USDA include:
Five important facts for the public to remember about ASF disease:
Collaborative efforts are in place to keep ASF out of the United States. USDA is working with State Veterinarians and pork industry officials to develop a strategic plan to prevent ASF from entering the United States, as well as to control the disease if an outbreak should occur. These efforts also include working very closely with Canada and Mexico.
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