Although African swine fever is ravaging swine populations across the globe, South Carolina farmers are fighting to keep their pigs safe.
The August 2018 outbreak of ASF in Asia continues to aggressively spread. China, the world’s largest pork producer, has already lost more than 1 million pigs to the disease.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website, ASF is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and wild pigs of all ages. There is no treatment or vaccine available for this disease. The only way to stop this disease is to depopulate all affected or exposed swine herds.
While fatal for pigs, there is no threat to human health, and ASF cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans.
African swine fever is found in countries around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, it has spread through China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia as well as within parts of the European Union and Russia.
Although it has never been found in the United States, the deadly, devastating disease would have a significant effect on U.S. livestock producers, their communities and the economy if it were found here.
Dr. Boyd Parr, state veterinarian and director of Clemson University Livestock and Poultry Health, said the pork industry, USDA and state agencies are working closely to monitor and prepare for an outbreak. The virus can be carried on shoes and clothing, and it even can survive in components of pig feed, so it is not easy to predict where and when an outbreak will occur.
“We certainly hope African swine fever never comes to the U.S., but we are going to prepare like it is,” Parr said. “We’re taking steps like double checking premises records to know where pigs are in case an outbreak occurs.”
Since Clemson can test for the disease, it has equipped 44 laboratories around the state to test for ASF. South Carolina also will work closely with North Carolina and the top swine-producing states to maintain a secure pork supply in the event of an outbreak, Parr said.
“By and large, the swine industry in South Carolina understands the need to protect from these things,” Parr said. “Producers have biosecurity procedures in place to prevent the spread of diseases. However, as with anything that has been successful for a long time, people can get complacent. Higher levels of biosecurity could be required if a case is detected,” Parr said.
Mark McLeod, farmer and South Caroline Pork Board member representing the Pee Dee District, said his farm already has tightened the biosecurity procedures.
“Right now, 40 percent of our daily operations are based on biosecurity,” McLeod said. “We carefully monitor what people, equipment and materials come on the farm. Whenever we get new information, we train our employees to keep them updated.”
Although most commercial producers have had training and comply with biosecurity protocols, smaller pasture-based operations could be the most at risk, Parr said.
“What we call transition operations have a few pigs and may not be in the loop as much,” Parr said. “Their pigs are more likely to come in contact with feral pigs. The disease doesn’t move fast enough to eradicate the feral population, but the feral animals could be carriers and spread the disease to the transition operations. We welcome anyone to reach out through Clemson Extension to get information about basic biosecurity and the steps they can take.”
Along with biosecurity concerns, the future of pork prices remains uncertain, McLeod said. Although trade disputes with China threatened to lower U.S. exports, the dramatic reduction in Chinese production has kept the price up. However, if an outbreak struck, the U.S. the industry would be hurt.
“We had been worried about the tariffs,” McLeod said, “but the biggest concern in the pork industry right now is an African swine fever outbreak.”