From our vantage point here in North America, African Swine Fever (ASF) may seem oceans away, primarily affecting the markets in China, South Korea, and parts of Europe.
Still, the disease's highly contagious nature and the potential ease of its spread across continents has many North American producers panicking.
While we certainly don't wish to downplay the severity of a disease like ASF, it is our firm belief that ASF should not just be feared in North America. Rather, it should be prepared for.
While ASF has no harmful effect on humans, its damage to swine is swift, and almost always fatal.
Transmission is often indirect through contact with contaminated organisms, feed, water, or uncooked pork. It can also pass via insects, including certain ticks, swine lice, and flies.
A major concern involves frozen pork shipped from China to North America. The survival of ASF is up to 1,000 days in frozen meat.
Meat from affected swine is only considered safe if it has been cooked at a high temperature (140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes) or if it's been treated with certain chemical disinfectants.
Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine for ASF.
Why Avoid Panic?
With such a devastating outlook for its victims, it may sound naive when we suggest avoiding panic over ASF.
But the plain and simple truth is, it hasn't reached us yet. And we need to do all we can to leverage that advantage.
While the market has been affected negatively worldwide by the disease's spread, prices in North America have actually been helped by ASF's presence elsewhere. Granted, that positive effect will only be short-term, but we'll take what relief we can get in a down market.
The best thing we can do to reduce the negative effects and get ahead, is to prepare now rather than reacting later.
The Next Steps
So what should we be doing to strengthen our resistance to ASF?
According to Tim Friedel, keeping production within North America is key. We consistently exchange products with China, sending crops like soybeans overseas to be turned into feed, or shipping meat goods, like intestines, to them to be cleaned and sent back.
It's been determined that many feedstuffs, including soybean meal, act as a viable carrier for ASF, and that they allow the disease to survive for months at a time. As we mentioned earlier, frozen meat can carry ASF for up to 1,000 days, and we know that some of that meat will end up in landfills where wild pigs can come in contact with the disease.
This exchange is simply unnecessary. Reducing that back-and-forth by localizing certain processes can keep us on the contamination-free track for longer.
It's practically guaranteed that ASF will reach North America at some point. The more pertinent question is how drastically it will leave its mark. It does us no good to panic and fear its arrival, but instead, we should do all we can, while we can, to ensure that its effect is minimal.
Considerations Within North America
While the risk is higher throughout Europe and Asia, where pens are smaller and often outdoors, we must increase control over the biosecurity of our domestic pig population.
Controlling that biosecurity is one of the most effective available defenses against ASF.
Numerous issues also occur when the virus takes hold in the feral pig population, which has been growing in the southern United States.
On a positive note, the species of tick that has done significant damage by spreading ASF overseas is not native to the U.S.
To conclude, we must not panic, but leverage our advantages, tighten our imports and exports, and increase our biosecurity to avoid a devastating effect, if and when ASF reaches North America.
To learn more about the state of the pork market, including ASF's effects, check out this piece from Tim Friedel.