Is African Swine Fever More Widespread?


LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The confirmation of African swine fever in Haiti came as no surprise to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who on Wednesday told state agriculture regulators USDA is doing all it can to prevent the spread of the deadly virus to the U.S. mainland.

"Our theory and our belief is it's more widespread than perhaps we know today," Vilsack said during the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

"So, we have to take the position, if you will, that we really need to be aggressive in both places (Haiti, Dominican Republic). So, you tighten things up in the U.S., you try to eradicate where the problem currently exists in our hemisphere and helping provide the assistance to get that done as quickly as possible."

The World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, confirmed an outbreak of ASF in Haiti on Monday in the very-most southern city of Anse-a-Pitre, bordering the Dominican Republic.

The OIE report is the first indication the virus may have spread from the Dominican Republic where it was identified in the Western Hemisphere for the first time in decades. According to the OIE, this is the first reported case of African swine fever in Haiti since 1984. The report indicates there were 234 cases of ASF found among a backyard herd of 2,500 animals in Haiti.

Vilsack said it was important to reassure U.S. trading partners the current outbreak in the Caribbean is "regional."

"Rather than basically having a one-size-fits-all blanket approach, that if a problem occurs in one part of the country or one part of a region that impacts and affects a ban on the entire region, when in fact it's not necessarily impacting 90% of the region," Vilsack said.

"We're really trying to convey a sense that if there's a problem in terms of banning or in terms of limiting exports, you limit it to the area that is most directly affected."

The October lean hogs contract on Wednesday was at $84.05 per cwt, down around 32.5 cents, but still at a high level after a $2.60-per-cwt jump last week.

The December lean hogs contract is at $73.60 per cwt, but it has fallen more than $8.80 since the start of September.

Vilsack said the establishment of a protection zone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is "important because we can reassure our trading partners that, at this point in time, we're doing everything we possibly can" to ensure the virus doesn't enter the U.S. mainland.

"We need to be very, very vigilant about all of this," he said.

In the near term, Vilsack said he expects to see an effort to invest in additional resources through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to "harden our system" in the U.S.

"The reality is the only way that we know today to deal with this is eradication," Vilsack said. "And, obviously, that's an incredibly painful thing for that to occur anywhere."


In the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in particular, he said the U.S. will need to provide technical and financial assistance to help eradicate the virus.

Vilsack said USDA is working on developing a vaccine.

"We've had some pretty good news recently in terms of the possibility of a vaccine that might work, at least against the Asian variety of African swine fever," he said, "so we want to continue that research, we want to continue to accelerate to find that secret sauce, if you will."

At the end of last week, USDA suspended the movement of all live swine, swine germplasm, swine products and swine byproducts from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland U.S. in an effort to prevent the spread of African swine fever.

In a news release at the end of last week, USDA said it issued the federal order as part of establishing an animal disease protection zone in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The order was given to allow USDA to establish "sufficient mitigations" against ASF.

So far, ASF has not been detected in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On July 28, APHIS confirmed African swine fever in the Dominican Republic. On Aug. 26, APHIS announced plans to establish a foreign animal disease protection zone around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

APHIS said that once the protection zone was established, the agency would be able to restrict movement of live swine and products out of the protection zone, conduct surveillance within the zone, conduct a public-education campaign on biosecurity on farms, prohibit the movement of live swine and products outside of the region and to contact report clinical cases to authorities.

A USDA official said earlier in August the U.S. was trying to accelerate efforts to eradicate feral hogs in Puerto Rico and to expand testing efforts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

ASF has no human health implications, but the disease is deadly to swine and spreads rapidly through a herd.

ASF led to rapid slaughter of millions of hogs in China in late 2018 and early 2019, cutting the world's largest swine herd down as much as 40% and leading China to basically rebuild its entire swine industry in the process. The ripple effect led to a high volume of global pork exports to China, including from the U.S., in response.

Chinese officials said in 2020 the country had gotten a handle on the disease, but USDA in April 2020 cited that underreporting of cases was now a problem in China as producers in the country were reluctant to report any new outbreaks because of fears of economic losses.

Germany was originally hit with ASF in its feral hog population last year, which effectively cut off exports from the country. German officials reported ASF had been found in at least three farms, affecting domestic pigs.

U.S. and Canadian officials have since been concerned about the potential risks for ASF landing in North America and the potential devastation it would cause. The risks are high, considering the U.S. exported a record $7.7 billion in pork in 2020 and is largely keeping close pace with that sale volume so far in 2021. The risk of a single case could effectively close U.S. export markets.

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