Friday, October 18, 2019

U.S. authorities guarding against African swine fever

African swine fever has killed as many as half of China's 300 million pigs over the past 13 months, and the disease, which has spread to more than 50 countries, is now advancing throughout southeastern Asia. 

"With these developments, the American pork industry has begun mobilizing. Experts say the risk of a domestic outbreak of African swine fever is increasing," Laura Reiley reports for The Washington Post. "The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service led several functional exercises and drills late last month, working off a scenario of an outbreak of the virus in Mississippi that traveled across state lines before it was discovered. Fourteen states participated in the drill." Between 85% and 95% of pigs that catch it die within two weeks. Humans can't catch it, though. 

If the disease spreads to the U.S., the pork industry could suffer billions of dollars in losses, but the damage wouldn't end there. "Widespread loss of pigs could devastate the corn and soy industries, which are primary feed sources, and industries such as beef could be affected by a loss in consumer confidence," Reiley reports.

There is no vaccine or treatment of the disease, and the virus that causes it can live for weeks on tainted slaughtered meat, animal feed, or animal feed additives. That's one reason American authorities are alarmed. "There is insufficient American organic soy, so hog farmers wishing to feed their animals organic soy often import it from China," Reiley reports. "And there are feed ingredients — B vitamins and trace minerals — that are manufactured only in China. The virus can survive for up to a month on these products, so they must be quarantined and heated to kill the virus." The disease could also spread via humans illegally smuggling meat or other infected food into the U.S.

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