Hog sector continues to prepare for African swine fever

African swine fever has ravaged China’s enormous swine industry and has spread across much of Asia and into Europe.  | Reuters photo

A multi-pronged national strategy is designed to keep out the disease and co-ordinate a response if it does arrive

A grim spectre hung over the Manitoba Pork Council’s annual meeting, but it wasn’t the pandemic.

“The threats are growing,” new Manitoba Pork Council general manager Cam Dahl said during the April 16 meeting.

“We see the threats of foreign animal disease increasing and we all know the significant impact and repercussions if it does occur.”

That is particularly true with African swine fever, which has ravaged China’s enormous swine industry and has spread across much of Asia and into Europe.

The Canadian hog industry is readying its response strategy for the day when the disease appears in North America.

“We need to continue with our ASF preparedness,” said outgoing MPC chair George Matheson.

Ironically, another disease crisis is providing some slight relief from the ASF risk.

“If we wouldn’t have had the reduced air travel (due to the COVID-19 restrictions) that would have really increased our risk with some of these challenges like ASF,” said Rick Bergmann, president of Canadian Pork Council.

“That buys us a little bit of time to make sure that we have some programming in place to mitigate a problem like this.”

The national strategy is a multi-pronged approach to prevent ASF, to contain it if it breaks out, and to co-ordinate the industry if it suddenly has to deal with a disaster hitting somewhere within the country.

A traceability program should allow pig movement to be quickly tracked, which could allow outbreaks to be isolated to particular regions.

“Without that, we’d be in big trouble,” said Bergmann.

A key development of recent years has been attempts to find ways to regionalize disease outbreaks so that only affected areas are severely disrupted. That has been achieved with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) and seemed to work successfully in limiting spread and recovery.

If there is an ASF outbreak, a national response plan should be in place, Matheson said, and communication and co-ordination ready to go.

“There will be a well-staffed call centre (and an) emergency operations centre,” said Matheson.

Daily meetings with the industry are planned and a central website will distribute current information.

Bergmann said the national plan includes:

  • zoning and compartmentalization
  • biosecurity
  • response programming
  • wild pig implications
  • funding

It’s a set-up that has involved farmers, industry, regulators and government, and the product of much work.

“Over the last year CPC has had endless discussions at the national and provincial levels on this topic,” said Bergmann.

“It’s chewed up a lot of time but we know that we need to do it. It’s so critical for us to do that.”

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