Canada, U.S. agree on plan if ASF infects wild pigs

Wild pigs could be an uncontrollable factor if ever infected with African swine fever. | File photo

Wild pigs are a worry in Canada and the United States for reasons beyond the damage they do to farms, pasture land and ecosystems.

They could be an uncontrollable factor if ever infected with African swine fever.

Though the fatal swine illness has not yet arrived in North America, it devastated China’s hog population and continues to spread in Eastern Europe, in part by wild pigs. If it arrives on this side of the ocean, it will immediately halt trade and cost billions for the two countries’ hog industries.

Canada and the U.S. have now agreed on a protocol to guide bilateral trade if ASF is detected in wild pigs but not in domestic swine.

Should that happen, all trade in live swine, swine germplasm and untreated swine products would initially be halted. Trade in products treated to make the ASF virus ineffective could continue.

The latter is a crucial point, since the virus can persist in body tissues for months after slaughter unless adequately treated. ASF does not affect people and is not a food safety risk, but it can be spread through people feeding pigs uncooked food scraps infected with the virus.

The new international protocol involves three phases that would gradually reduce trade restrictions.

Zoning would also be implemented, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in announcing the protocol.

“If a case of ASF is identified, geographic boundaries are defined to contain the outbreak. These geographic boundaries are control zones established in accordance with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. The areas outside of these control zones are disease-free zones,” it said.

The CFIA and the U.S. agriculture department Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are working with the swine industry to get the needed mechanisms in place to implement the protocol.

“Canada and the United States will continue to modify their export certificates to allow trade of live swine, swine semen, pet food and animal byproducts and meat from approved disease-free zones in the event of an ASF outbreak in domestic pigs,” the release said.

The CFIA and other industry players have been working for years on plans to prevent ASF from entering Canada and handling it if it does. They include various import restrictions, border control measures, training of CFIA personnel in identifying ASF, attention to source and type of livestock feed ingredients and monitoring of infections and response in other countries.

Co-ordination with the U.S. is important to any plans because thousands of domestic hogs cross the international border every week.

CFIA figures indicate the pork industry contributes to more than 100,000 Canadian jobs and generates nearly $24 billion annually. In 2020, the industry exported 1.4 million tonnes of pork valued at more than $5 billion to 93 different markets.

In the U.S., more than 129 million hogs were marketed in 2019, valued at more than US$22 billion. The U.S. industry supports more than half a million jobs.

The agreement between the two countries regarding ASF in wild pigs was signed by CFIA chief veterinary officer Dr. Jaspinder Komal and by USDA chief veterinary officer Dr. Burke Healey on March 3.

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