African Swine Fever ASF in the US

african swine fever in the us

Elizabeth Hines, swine specialist with PennState Extension explains in this video how African Swine Fever -ASF- can affect the US, both its people and the pork producers.

The US, and the rest of the Americas have so far stayed free of ASF, but controls might remain tight at ports, airports and customs so keep the sanitary standard as it is now.

The impact of ASF in the US pork meat industry

The US is a large pork meat producer, ranking #3 globally after China and the aggregate of all European countries.

pork production in the us 2020 versus other countries
Global ranking of pork meat production and consumption

The difference between 13.2 million tonnes production and 10.1 million domestic consumption makes the US a large exporter of pork meat as well. In 2020, with the growth of exports to China, the US is expected to export 3.4 million tons of pork meat. That is why a potential infection with African Swine Fever would be fatal for such a large industry.

pork meat exports us 2020
US Pork Meat exports versus the largest exporters in the world

But so far, the African Swine Fever outbreak in China, and many other countries in Asia and Europe has been a blessing for American pork meat producers. Since the outbreak of ASF in China in 2018, the US has raised pork exports from 2.7 million tonnes in 2018 to about 3.4 million tonnes expected for 2020.

Can I get African Swine Fever?

African swine fever is a highly contagious swine disease that is a big deal for pig producers, but does not affect humans.

African swine fever is a viral pathogen that affects only members of the pig family, suidae. This includes livestock pigs, pet pigs, show pigs as well as feral pigs and warthogs.

Humans and other animals do not get African swine fever. This means that pork is still safe to eat.

Why is African swine fever such a big concern in the US despite not being present in the country?

Although the virus cannot infect us, humans can carry it from place to place through our movements, travel and activities.

This includes when we transport pork products, for example, African swine fever can be spread to other pigs if they consume under cooked pork. Pig feed sometimes contain other animals’ processed organic matter. And in some small family run piggeries, pigs are fed with all the waste from human food, including meats, blood, organs, skin and bones.

Remember, we humans are not affected by African swine fever, so while we can safely eat pork, pigs cannot.

Now let’s take into consideration that millions of people travel the globe every day. This is especially true during the summer months in North America when tourism drives up human movements, increasing the likelihood that people will try to illegally bring home pork based souvenirs.

Here in the United States, Customs is working to reduce the risk of illegal importation of pork products, but millions of people travel each day. A trained dog even found a roasted pig head in a traveler’s luggage at an airport in Atlanta.

This souvenir could easily have been missed and could have carried the virus into the US.

According to the United States Federal Aviation Administration, nearly 1.3 million people travel internationally every day. The number of people that could be carrying the ASF virus on themselves or via contaminated pork products is a risk to US pig production. So even though it does not affect people, our activities play a huge role in the movement of this disease.

Humans movement spread the pathogen around. This is important because the disease is very resilient in the environment. The African swine fever virus can survive for over a hundred days in fresh and cured pork, and 300 days in dried meat and jerky. The African Swine Virus can survive indefinitely in frozen products.

Furthermore, if any of those travelers visited pig farms, the pathogen could live on their shoes or clothing. On its own the virus can survive in soil or feces for 11 days or longer.

As you can see, this virus can survive for a really long time in a variety of environments. There is ample time and opportunity to unknowingly spread the virus to pigs through either pork products or on your person. In addition to African swine fever being highly resilient, there is no vaccine available for it anywhere in the world.

Even if one pig is exposed, we can expect nearly 100% death loss of all the pigs on a single farm.

Finally, and probably the most important reason we need to keep African swine fever out of the United States is the impact this disease could have on pig farming and the whole pork meat packing industry.

Here in the US we export about 25% of the pork we produce. The severity of African swine fever means that other countries will stop purchasing US pork if African swine fever is found here.

Severe price drops will dramatically impact the income and livelihoods of many Americans: farmers, veterinarians, crop producers and related agricultural industries.

How can I protect pigs from ASF?

  • We can protect pigs from ASF by practicing biosecurity.
  • We can protect pigs from ASF by working with veterinarian to keep pigs healthy.
  • And finally, we can protect pigs from ASF by being aware of where we travel and by following all importation laws.

Incorporating these three ideas into our interactions with pigs will help all pig producers, caretakers and enthusiasts protect our pigs from this highly mobile and destructive disease.

So remember, African swine fever does not affect humans, but it is spread by humans.It can be carried on our shoes, clothing and belongings, by live pigs or by pork products. If it gets into the United States, pork prices will crash and many livelihoods will suffer.

There is no vaccine and no cure for African swine fever. So be vigilant and follow all the guidelines of prevention to help ensure that your pigs and the US pork industry are protected.