Hog industry split on extent of ASF threat

While some players are convinced African swine fever is inevitable in North America, others aren’t so sure

Is African swine fever inevitably going to infect North America’s swine herd?

Experts were split on that during the World Hog Industry Digital Conference, with markets experts considerably more pessimistic than veterinary experts.

“The question is which countries break first. You want to be last,” said Jim Long, president of Genesus, the Canada-based global swine genetics company.

He said he thought an ASF outbreak somewhere in North America was probably inevitable.

But veterinary experts like Scott Dee weren’t as fatalistic.

“I’m getting more and more confident we can keep this virus out of the country,” said Dee, who was part of a panel discussing the risk of ASF entering North America through feed imports.

Liz Wagstrom, the chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council, echoed him.

“I believe we’ve got a good chance of staying free,” she said.

The outbreak of ASF is disastrous for any country’s hog industry, but particularly so for pork-exporting nations like Canada and the United States, with foreign markets almost certain to immediately close their borders to meat from infected countries.

That causes millions of hogs to be euthanized as they are infected and crashes domestic prices as pork gluts develop.

Long said ASF outbreaks tend to cause significant restructuring inside the nations in which they occur. Russia’s industry, which experienced ASF in the 2010s, saw much of its small-scale producers, the so-called backyard hog herd, disappear, while the biggest players swallowed the smaller players.

Backyard herds, once 40 percent of Russia’s national herd, now make up only about 10 percent, Long said.

That has led to fewer, but larger-scale players and has created a more modern industry.

The same appears to be happening in China, he said. Chinese hog producers are keen to rebuild, expand and consolidate their industry once ASF winds down.

“I was amazed at how resilient people were,” said Long, who was recently in China.

“They were telling me about recovery and expansion.”

Having the outbreak occur outside of North America has allowed American, Canadian and Mexican officials and industry to develop plans, carry out testing and research ASF, so there is a chance to better contain it in North America, veterinarians said.

“There’s a lot of long-term solutions,” said Wagstrom, following a discussion about vaccines, international trade protocols and disaster plans.

However, Dee said much still isn’t known about how to clean up an infected industry. Exactly how to sanitize a farm and get it safely back in production is something that’s still being learned in infected areas.

Dennis Smith, an adviser with Archer Financial Services, said ASF is a dire threat, but North America was well-situated to prevent it from becoming a total disaster if it breaks out.

“We will have the ability to contain it,” he said, and North America should be able to do it better than China.

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