African swine fever found in Dominican Republic

African swine fever has been found in samples from pigs in the Dominican Republic. | file photo

CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — African swine fever has reached the Western Hemisphere.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed yesterday that the deadly hog virus was found in samples from pigs in the Dominican Republic, fuelling concerns about the disease creeping closer to the North American mainland.

The news prompted the Canada Border Services Agency to add the country to its list of countries that border officers are screening for ASF risks.

The hog industry and government officials have been working to keep the disease out of Canada and respond quickly to an outbreak if one occurs.

Initiatives taken in 2019 include increasing the number of detector dog teams, enhancing public communications about the risks associated with illegal meat imports and controlling imports of unprocessed grain and oilseeds from ASF-infected countries.

“While much progress has been made, there remain opportunities to eradicate wild pigs, enhance biosecurity and develop the response policies and programs that will be needed should there ever be a Canadian outbreak,” said Canadian Pork Council chair Rick Bergmann.

“We look forward to collaborating with the Canadian government to further strengthen our capacity to maintain the health of our Canadian pig herd and pork industry.”

The positive tests in the Dominican Republic represent the first detection of the disease in the Americas in about 40 years, according to the National Pork Producers Council in the United States.

Infections in that country highlight the risk for the spread of the disease, which devastated China’s hog herd after being detected there in 2018.

“The proximity of course is a concern,” said Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center in the U.S.

African swine fever is harmless to humans but often fatal to pigs. It originated in Africa before spreading to Europe and Asia and has already killed hundreds of millions of pigs, while reshaping global meat and feed markets.

The positive samples in the Dominican Republic came from two farms that were geographically separated, Sundberg said, adding that it will be important to determine how the virus entered the country.

“Something happened with DR and we need to know what in order to make sure it doesn’t happen here,” he said.

Governments often block imports of pork products from countries where the disease has been found to prevent transmission.

The U.S. already prohibits imports of pork from the Dominican Republic as a result of another disease there, classical swine fever, according to the USDA.

The department said it is committed to helping the Dominican Republic with African swine fever and will offer assistance to neighbouring Haiti, which is at “high risk” for cases.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is increasing inspections of flights from the Dominican Republic to ensure travellers do not bring prohibited products into the U.S. that could carry the virus, according to the USDA.

“We thank the USDA and CBP for the additional measures they are taking to prevent the spread of ASF to the United States,” said Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council.

African swine fever spread rapidly in China starting three years ago and wiped out half the country’s hog herd, the world’s largest, within a year. It sent global pork prices surging.

The disease has also been found in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

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