China links ASF to infected meat

An international forum on African swine fever held in Ottawa also discussed zoning and compartmentalization tactics

Chinese officials believe that African swine fever entered the country with people who brought in meat infected with the virus.

Since then, the highly infectious animal disease has killed millions of pigs in China and caused the eradication of many more as the country attempts to control and eradicate it.

The presumed source of China’s ASF outbreak was one revelation arising from the international forum on ASF held in Ottawa April 30-May 1. Some 150 delegates from 15 countries attended the event with the goal of developing strategies to deal with the virus.

Dr. Jack Shere, chief veterinary officer with the United States Department of Agriculture, said in a May 1 news conference that China’s assessment was among the many interesting facts that arose from the forum.

Shere gave the English version of the forum summary after Canada’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Jaspinder Komal, provided the same information in French.

“Jointly we have developed a framework that will support ongoing international collaboration and action in areas of preparedness and planning, enhanced biosecurity, business continuity and co-ordinated risk communications,” said Shere.

The framework lays out the foundation for:

  • a high state of readiness to swiftly control ASF should it enter the Americas
  • strengthening biosecurity measures to prevent the entry of ASF and mitigate its spread
  • establishing agreements in the swine sector to mitigate the trade impacts of ASF
  • effective communications to best inform Canadians and neighbouring countries about the risk of ASF

African swine fever is not a threat to humans or to food safety. However, there is no cure or vaccine for it and it has spread to pigs in other parts of Asia and Europe.

Should it arrive in North America, it could devastate the hog industry.

“We have an opportunity now to continue to act decisively and collaboratively to increase awareness around ASF, fill in the gaps that have been identified and proactively negotiate partnerships and agreements to aid in our approach to the disease,” said Shere.

Komal said forum discussions made it very clear that ASF is a human-driven disease spread by contact, meaning it can be spread by people transporting infected meat or carrying the virus on soft surfaces like clothing. Contact between those things and domestic pigs could result in infection of those pigs.

“One pig infected can cause a lot of not only economic impact but also social and animal welfare impact,” Komal said.

He added that awareness about the virus must be enhanced through all means available, including social media, vigilance at border crossings and all other means of communicating the threat to the general public.

Komal and Shere said a block of discussion at the forum was dedicated to zoning and compartmentalization tactics should ASF arrive in Canada or the U.S. The two countries already have agreements formed in response to avian influenza and will use those as a basis for ASF control.

Shere added that government agreements would have to be augmented by industry participation.

“What came out of the conference and what struck me probably the most was that industry has to closely collaborate with the federal government and regional government in order for this to work,” he said.

“We certainly need a lot of input from industry to bring those types of plans forward and that’s why we have a lot of work to do in that area. I think we can get there, though.”

Input from countries already dealing with ASF shows that conditions differ in the problem areas and control and eradication strategies will vary. Komal said the different experiences in countries already infected proved to be an eye opener.

“It’s a very complex problem based on where you find it. Do you find it in domestic hogs or do you find it in wild pigs and what is your geographical area in that place? And what type of biosecurity measures do you have?… How are people moving? How is product moving?”

A separate block of the forum dealt with threats of infection via wild boar and feral pigs. Komal said the best defence in Canada’s situation is enhanced biosecurity in the domestic herd, a stance he said was confirmed by other countries’ experience.

Shere said wild boar and feral pigs are not a huge problem in the U.S. and it does not plan to hunt or kill wild hogs. The strategy at this point is to watch for and test any dead wild pigs to ensure ASF is not the cause of their death.

In a news release about the forum, Agriculture Canada reiterated steps already taken to protect the domestic industry, including but not limited to:

  • providing new funding of up to $31 million to increase the number of detector dogs at Canadian airports
  • implementing additional import control measures to prevent infected plant-based feed ingredients from ASF-affected countries from entering Canada
  • engaging international partners on approaches to zoning, so trade disruptions can be minimized if ASF enters Canada

In the news conference, Komal said ASF will be discussed at upcoming World Organization for Animal Health meetings. As well, Mexico has offered to host the next ASF international forum, though dates have not been determined.

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