Three words kept coming up at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees this week – African swine fever.
The committees meet to discuss biosecurity and animal health with much of the meeting focused on the disease, which has killed as much as half the pigs in China and could have a devastating effect on not only Pennsylvania but the U.S.
“This is a virus that, unfortunately, if it comes to the U.S., very quickly would result in 100 percent mortality of any of the herds it came into,” said Kevin Brightbill, DVM, state veterinarian and director of the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “There would be no survivors from this disease.”
An African swine fever outbreak in the U.S. could have a $8 billion impact just on swine and a $20 billion impact on commodity imports including corn and soybeans, Brightbill said.
The disease can be transmitted several ways and affects all pigs equally. Pigs can eat contaminated pork products or it can be transmitted through feces. Humans can also transmit it to the pigs.
“We are concerned about international travelers that may have had interactions on farms, say in China and other places and potentially not disposing of their clothes, not disposing of their shoes and then visiting a U.S. farm or even say a county fair exhibition where in some places like where the Little League World Series is held there is a county fair there at the same time and we have a lot of people going to that,” Brightbill said.
The virus only responds to two disinfectants and no vaccine is available, the panelists testified.
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski asked Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding about the level of preparedness the state was at when it came to biosecurity.
“If I were picking a number, I would say halfway, but that varies by industry,” Redding said, noting the poultry industry is in a better position to fight infection than the swine industry. The challenge is establishing protocols and getting the farmers to stick with them, Redding said.
A Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Symposium will be held next spring in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to discuss preparedness for African swine fever and other threats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to attend.
“ASF keeps me up at night,” said Dr. Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University, who noted the disease has recently “crossed an ocean” and been found in Ireland. “It’s one of the reasons why we want to have this conference to discuss this with the USDA and other experts.”