U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is adding 60 teams of sniffer dogs to keep African swine fever out of the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the move March 6 as part of a larger initiative to improve border security and biosecurity at hog farms.
African swine fever is spreading through pig herds in Eastern Europe, Russia and China and was recently detected in Vietnam. It’s a serious viral disease that can cause fever, internal bleeding and high death rates in swine.
Infected animals spread the disease through direct contact with other pigs. It can also spread indirectly.
“(It) can survive for long periods of time outside of the host,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says on its website.
“It can be spread by contamination of objects, such as farm equipment, vehicles, clothing and footwear.”
One of the primary vectors is infected meat. Humans are moving the virus by transporting meat and feeding it as scraps to pigs.
Beagles and other sniffer dogs are used at air and sea ports to detect illegal shipments of meat — in containers or in the luggage of travelers.
With the additional 60 beagle teams, the U.S. will soon have 179 teams at American airports and seaports.
In comparison, as of January there were 17 sniffer dogs at all the airports in Canada.
The USDA announcement comes only two weeks after Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s former agriculture minister, spoke about African swine fever in Washington, D.C.
MacAulay urged U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to collaborate with Canada to keep the disease out of North America.
“We have to realize it’s in China, it’s in Vietnam. It’s right across Asia. This is a big issue, in my view, for the agricultural sector,” he said at a public meeting.
“It takes one (case) to cost us billions of dollars. I just hope we can work together — not after; before.”
If ASF arrived in Canada and infected a few hog farms, it could shut down pork exports and might force producers to euthanize millions of pigs.
Besides the additional beagle teams, the USDA is also:
- increasing inspections and enforcement of garbage feeding facilities to ensure fed garbage is cooked properly to prevent potential disease spread
- encouraging farmers to upgrade their on-farm biosecurity
- developing testing procedures to screen for the virus in grains, feeds and additives and swine oral fluid samples
When it comes to livestock feed, U.S. research has shown that infected shipments of soybean meal and other feeds can transmit the virus from country to country.
In January, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency created a working group to study African swine fever and imported feed.
The working group is expected to make recommendations to mitigate the risk of imported feed as soon as possible.