Tackling the scourge of wild boars

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Wild boars are wreaking havoc across the United States and parts of Canada.

One agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been given the task of trying to eliminate them because they are destructive and can carry foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, pseudorabies and parasites such as trichinellosis and screw worm.

They could also spread bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, Johne’s disease and Tularemia (rabbit fever).

“They can transmit them to a whole host of everything, including humans,” economist Stephanie Shwiff of the National Wildlife Research Centre said during the National Institute of Animal Health annual meeting held April 3-6 in Columbus.

“They can eat pretty much everything. They cause destruction to almost anything .… They are moving north, and there doesn’t seem to be much that can stop them.”

Shwiff’s task is to assess the costs of a foreign animal disease that these critters could introduce.

A number of studies have looked at the cost of foot-and-mouth disease in the United States.

Shwiff’s research is examining further costs to communities beyond agriculture.

Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious and causes serious economic harm because of loss of sales and exports.

The BSE outbreak in 2003 cost the U.S. beef industry $3.2 to $4.7 billion. Foot-and-mouth disease would be much worse because it could affect cattle, sheep and hogs. All commerce would stop.

The United Kingdom experienced a severe foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001. More than 2,000 cases were confirmed and millions of cattle, sheep and hogs were destroyed. It cost more than $10 billion.

Costs would quickly mount in North America because of stop movement orders throughout the countryside, quarantines, destruction of animals and vaccination strategies. The impacts are felt throughout the entire community when a producer loses livestock because the animals were supposed to be sold for processing and eventually sold as meat. All that would stop.

“Everything in our economy is linked, and if we put less animals into the system, it impacts that regional economy down to the number of firefighters you can hire or the number of people you can hire to pump gas,” Shwiff said.

Her economic models looked at the costs associated with no vaccination versus a vaccination plan.

All vaccination scenarios provide a greater savings than deciding not to vaccinate.

There are different approaches to vaccination.

All exposed animals could be vaccinated to provide protection against clinical disease. However, it is assumed the disease is present, and so these animals would be destroyed at a later date. They would still have to be maintained and fed until that time.

Vaccination-to-live programs are undertaken in herds or flocks that are close to an outbreak but were not exposed to the disease. Once vaccinated, they offer a barrier to disease and if they are confirmed free of infection, they are allowed to live out their productive lives.

“Vaccination-to-live saves you more money under every scenario than its equivalent decision of vaccinate-to-die,” she said.

In addition, exports would tumble when a disease of this type is reported.

“Once a country reports a case of FMD, we see an 86 percent decline in exports for that country.”

U.S. beef exports fell by 90 percent as a result of BSE in 2003.

U.S. beef, pork and poultry are widely exported and all would be affected.

“An 80 percent decrease in any of those is going to have huge impacts on our economy,” she said.

The impact of a disease outbreak is linked to other sectors such as corn, wheat, processing and retail. Management strategies that preserve the farm-to- fork supply chain typically tend to be better for the economy, which it will recover faster.

“Keeping the producer whole helps the economy the most,” she said.

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